HC Deb 14 March 1995 vol 256 cc681-2
8. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what new proposals she has to improve mental health care.

Mr. Bowis

A large range of measures for in-patient and community services is being implemented, and our new Mental Health Bill is being considered in another place.

Mr. Flynn

Does the Minister agree that not only are mixed-sex wards unacceptable and distressing to patients, but so are wards which have an unacceptable range of mental ill health? A 22-year-old young woman constituent of mine, who had suffered a nervous breakdown, found herself sharing a ward with people who were deeply psychotic and she was assaulted twice by a young male patient. Is it not utterly unacceptable that our mental hospitals, as a result of the Government's changes, have been turned into places which increase anxiety and stress to staff and patients?

Mr. Bowis

The hon. Gentleman refers to a hospital which is in his constituency in Wales and, therefore, is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. I understand that Welsh questions were yesterday. I shall, however, answer in the general sense, since the matter applies to English health questions as well. It is appropriate that every health authority in the country should look at its range of provision and ensure that it meets what it assesses locally as being its need. That is what we have been encouraging them to do and that is what they are doing. We are looking for the right mix of acute beds, long-term beds, medium-term beds, low, medium and high-secure beds and a range of facilities in the community. They are being provided in most parts of the country and we are determined that they will be provided in all parts of the country.

Mr. Sims

My hon. Friend will recall that about 12 months ago, the Select Committee on Health issued a report on these matters, in which it criticised the Government for the delay in implementing the homeless mentally ill initiative and for the lack of co-operation between his Department and the Department of the Environment. Will he assure me that those problems have been addressed and that the provision of housing for the mentally ill under that initiative is proceeding?

Mr. Bowis

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He will also recall that the homeless mentally ill initiative has been a remarkable success story, not least because of the outreach teams which have been reaching increasing numbers of homeless mentally ill people. The initiative has also been a tremendous success in providing accommodation, the first stage of which has been hostel accommodation. I have opened a number of hostels around London and I am due to open another one shortly.

My hon. Friend is also right to point to the need for a good system of agreed move-on accommodation. In the past, lack of that has caused delays. That is why we have been working closely with our colleagues in the Department of the Environment and why we have also been working closely with the inner London boroughs especially. I am pleased to say that some helpful progress has been made by those boroughs for future provision.

Mr. Illsley

Is it not the case that the Government are bringing forward controversial, unpopular and piecemeal initiatives on mental health rather than addressing the real issues such as the diversion of resources away from mental health into other parts of the national health service, the closure of long-stay institutions, the lack of a comprehensive strategy for mental health and the relationship between mental health and homelessness, unemployment and sexual and racial discrimination? Is it not time that the Government addressed the whole matter of mental health and perhaps committed themselves to a complete review of the Mental Health Act 1983?

Mr. Bowis

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been. One of the five key parts of "The Health of the Nation" strategy is mental illness. We have been working hard with all the agencies involved to improve the standing of people with mental health problems. He will also know that we have been implementing our 10-point plan over the past 18 months, which has ranged from supervision registers and hospital discharge guidance through the training of key workers to supervised discharge, which is in the Mental Health Bill that is before Parliament.

Resources to the tune of £2.3 billion have been put into mental health this year. Through social services, we have been putting money into local government provision to the tune of some £180 million and our mental illness specific grant has supported 1,000 schemes and 100,000 people. The missing link to which the Blom-Cooper and other reports have referred was partly supervised discharge and partly medium-secure beds. Those were missing because, during the previous Labour Government, not a single bed was provided, whereas we shall be providing some 1,300 beds by 1996.