HC Deb 16 April 1996 vol 275 cc501-3
10. Ms Glenda Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met the British Medical Association to discuss mental health provision. [23473]

Mr. Bowis

Ministers meet the British Medical Association on formal and informal occasions and discuss a range of issues, including mental health.

Ms Jackson

Did those discussions include the report of the Royal College of Psychiatrists highlighting the totally inadequate bed provision for the mentally ill in 10 out of 16 of the old regional health authorities, and the surely scandalous fact, highlighted by the Royal College of Nursing, that only one in five schizophrenia patients has any access to a community psychiatric nurse? In the light of those reports and growing public disquiet, will the Government call an immediate halt to any further bed closures and address urgently serious staff shortages so that confidence in care in the community can begin to be re-established?

Mr. Bowis

I am aware of the reports and I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware of the action that has been taken. The Royal College of Psychiatrists produced two reports. Around the time of the first report we set up our mental health task force to consider services in London. It reported, having had discussions with each and every one of those inner London authorities. We then had my right hon. Friend's announcements earlier this year following the review of every health authority in the country as to the implementation of the care programme approach and the range and effectiveness of the spectrum of care which we seek to have in place in every health authority area.

The hon. Lady will know that we are currently spending some £2.5 billion on the service and that my right hon. Friend announced an extra budget of some £95 million in order to bring the necessary services up to pace. We have in place a policy that is broadly accepted. It is now being implemented, pursued where appropriate by the NHS executive. I hope that the hon. Lady will support the doctors, nurses and those working on the mental health side of the NHS in the work that they are doing to make that possible.

Mr. Sims

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the public concern about whether provision for mental health patients in the community is adequate. Will he confirm that some of the welcome additional expenditure to which he referred will be devoted to fulfilling the pledge in the draft patients charter for mental health services: that no patient will be discharged from hospital until appropriate arrangements for his or her care in the community have been made?

Mr. Bowis

Yes, my hon. Friend is right, and I can certainly make that promise. In addition to the money from health authorities, that is precisely where the challenge fund money and, indeed, the mental illness specific grant, which is paid through local authorities, will go. It is fundamental that we have in place a spectrum of care: beds in hospitals—secure when appropriate—short-term, long-term, 48-hour and 24-hour nursing care and the community services that mentally ill people need to support them in their homes or in supported accommodation in the community.

Mr. Milburn

But when will the Minister accept responsibility for the state of mental health services? There are too few beds in hospitals, facilities in the community are inadequate and staffing is stretched to breaking point in both. Has not the cart has been put before the horse in too many parts of Britain, with hospital beds being closed before new and appropriate community facilities have been opened? Will he act now to restore public confidence in mental health services, before there are any further tragedies, by imposing an immediate moratorium on any further mental health bed closures?

Mr. Bowis

That was a rather sad statement of official Labour party policy. We heard not a single extra pledge for mentally ill people, only an attempt to undermine the services that are being provided for them. Of course we take responsibility for these services. We are seeking to ensure that the policy of adequate resources and facilities being available in the community before beds are closed—which, until now, the Opposition had accepted as being the right one—is in place. All that the hon. Gentleman needs to do is to welcome it and thank the Government for seeking to implement it.