HC Deb 03 June 2003 vol 406 cc6-7
3. Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North)

If he will exempt from prescription charges people with mental health problems in need of continuing care or treatment. [116526]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears)

Improving services for people with mental health problems is a priority for the Government. We aim to help those who may have difficulty in paying prescription charges, rather than extending the exemption arrangements. By using a prescription prepayment certificate, no one need pay more than £32.90 for four months, or £90.40 for 12 months, for all the NHS medication that they are prescribed.

Dr. Gibson

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. However, what does she make of the report by Mind and Health Which? on the hidden costs of mental health, which found that 83 per cent. of people with experience of mental distress had not received the care or treatment that they needed and felt that they could not cope with life or recover, and that 59 per cent. of them were unable to afford the treatments and drugs that were on offer? Does not that represent a lack of boldness?

Ms Blears

The report is an excellent piece of work that is based on service users' experience. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), will meet representatives from Mind tomorrow to discuss the report's findings. It covers not only medication and prescriptions, but psychological therapies, art therapy and complementary therapy.

On access to prescriptions, if more people got pre-payment certificates they would find that a tremendous help in meeting the costs of medication. It is important to try to expand the non-drug treatments that are available in the range of mental health services. We are doing a great deal of research into therapies involving psychological counselling, and to get more capacity into the system we have 1,000 people training to be able to provide those non-drug therapies within the NHS.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Is the hon. Lady aware of the survey conducted by the Depression Alliance which showed that up to 50 per cent. of those suffering from mental problems are now turning to herbal medicines, and to aromatherapy in particular? Does she not think that it would be helpful if the certificates to which she referred could encompass herbal medicine and aromatherapy, to help those affected? Is she not also absolutely ashamed of the Food Standards Agency report on vitamin supplements, which has caused such confusion? Does she agree that many doctors prescribe and encourage patients to take vitamin supplements, and that the idea that the whole nation is on the same quality of diet is absolutely ridiculous?

Ms Blears

The hon. Gentleman is fully aware that primary care trusts can now commission a whole range of therapies, because they have the resources at the front line of the service. He is also aware that there has to be a proper evidence base for those therapies to be provided. Continuing to raise the game of complementary practitioners is an important part of the service and increasing regulation. In the mental health field, a whole range of therapies is beginning to be evaluated, and the involvement of people with mental health problems in arts projects, for example, is proving extremely helpful in alleviating some of their problems and symptoms. So this is not just a matter of traditional complementary therapies; a whole range of alternatives is beginning to be offered under this Government to people with long-term mental health problems.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will take note of the Mind report's recommendations and consider implementing them? Where gaps in provision are found—perhaps research needs to be commissioned to identify them—will the Government take steps to ensure that those gaps are filled?

Ms Blears

As I have said, the Mind report is an extremely useful piece of information based on service users' experience. I would draw Members' attention to its recommendation on ensuring that, in accordance with the Mind prescribing protocol, people with mental health problems are involved in the clinical decisions about the kind of medication that should be prescribed. Time and again, we have found that when we get expert patients involved, the medical outcomes are much better. The Mind protocol is an excellent piece of work and we shall certainly look at all the report's recommendations to see what we can take up.