HC Deb 20 May 1997 vol 294 cc502-3
14. Mr. Grieve

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what proposals he has to overcome the stigma attached to mental illness; and if he will make a statement. [417]

Mr. Boateng

The Department recognises the need to increase knowledge and understanding about mental health among the general public and thus to promote a positive image of mental health and combat stigma. We are actively working, not least with the voluntary sector and other groups, to take this forward.

Mr. Grieve

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his appointment, having had the opportunity to debate with him outside the Chamber on many happy occasions in the past.

In view of the hon. Gentleman's answer, is it not a trifle disappointing that the Labour party manifesto contained no discussion of mental health problems? Are we to assume that the alleged £100 million saving from cutting bureaucracy will or will not be channelled towards mental health? I note that the criteria laid down under the new patients charter being proposed by the Government look at the success of treatments which, by its very nature, is an extremely fugitive concept when dealing with mental health problems. Are we to take it, therefore, that further funding will be made available for mental health, or not?

Mr. Boateng

No Member representing the Conservative party—which neglected mental health for 18 years and created a situation in which the vulnerable and the severely disadvantaged were let loose in our towns and cities without adequate support—has any right to point the finger at the present Government in that regard. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will ensure that mental health receives the priority that it so richly deserves and which it so singularly lacked under the previous Administration.

Dr. Godman

The stigma attached to mental illness is, thankfully, much reduced from what it was. In seeking to reduce that stigma still further, will my hon. Friend commission an investigation into the methodology of treatment for certain mental illnesses? For instance, will he examine the guidelines laid down by the Royal College of Psychiatrists on the use of electro-convulsive therapy in the treatment of certain illnesses?

Mr. Boateng

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and for his interest in the subject. We shall certainly be meeting representatives of the Royal College of Psychiatrists to discuss a range of issues, and the issue raised by my hon. Friend will certainly be among them.

Mrs. Ewing

Will the Minister look at one particularly important aspect—the fact that those who suffer from long-term mental illness and require prescriptions do not enjoy the exemptions that apply to others? Will he do that without delay?

Mr. Boateng

We shall certainly do so, among a raft of other measures, in conjunction with trusts and, importantly, local authorities. All too often, vulnerable people suffering from mental illness fall between the national health service and local authorities. We shall be addressing the issue as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Burns

On a personal note, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what is probably one of the most interesting and challenging portfolios in the Government. Is he aware that the previous Government had agreed a clear set of objectives with each individual health authority with regard to the provision and enhancement of mental health care to be achieved by the end of March this year? Will he confirm that his Government will continue that policy and will publish the results of the review of the performance of health authorities against their target objectives?

Mr. Boateng

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. The Government put the highest possible emphasis on ensuring that we build effective and cost-effective interventions both by health authorities and, importantly, by local authorities. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are real problems throughout social services and mental health care in terms of gauging value for money. I have begun a series of discussions with the Local Government Association and the national health service to determine that we get it right. We shall certainly make it a priority to publish the results, as taxpayers should know that they are getting value for money in those essential services.