HC Deb 18 March 2003 vol 401 cc739-40
1. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

If he will make a statement on mental health services in Barnet. [103193]

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

Local mental health services in Barnet are making good progress against the national service framework targets, but they face considerable challenges in meeting additional demands and improving further services for patients. Public and staff are being involved in the plans for future developments.

Mr. Dismore

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that response, but I am sure that she is aware of the long waiting times for intensive out-patient care. I wish to raise in particular the matter of the Barnet psychiatric unit, which closed temporarily more than five years ago, with a view to being reopened. Nothing has happened yet and the result is that the temporary ward at Edgware hospital is under considerable strain. What will happen in terms of reproviding the Barnet psychiatric unit, and when may we expect to see some progress on the issue? The present situation is unsustainable, and perhaps the money could be found from the modernisation fund.

Ms Blears

My hon. Friend will be aware that the outline business case to reprovide the acute in-patient service at Barnet was considered by the primary care trust in December. The acute unit will now provide 54 beds and will bring acute mental health services on to the same site as the rest of the acute services. That will be a real improvement for patients. The extra revenue costs are likely to be some £350,000 and the PCT has confirmed that it will be able to afford that. We need now to make swift progress in relocating those services to Barnet to serve people in that community.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

In supporting the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) about the need for that acute service, may I ask the Minister to confirm that the social service inspectorate's report of May 2002 was selectively damning? It said that mental health services in Barnet had been allowed to drift, service users were losing out and carers were not being supported. May we have her assurance that the Government are addressing the matter and taking the necessary actions to put things right quickly?

Ms Blears

The hon. Gentleman is too harsh on those local services. The area has lower than average suicide rates, admission rates and readmission rates, as well as good user involvement, a good relationship with Barnet Voice for Mental Health and good carer involvement. Local people are working hard to ensure that mental health services in the area serve the needs of patients. They are setting up new assertive out-reach and crisis intervention teams, and much good work is being done. Further improvements do need to be made, but significant progress has already been achieved.

Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle)

May I first pay tribute to Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who left the Government today? He was effective, well respected and well known to those who work in, and care about, the NHS. The child and adolescent mental health services report zero weeks waiting time—in other words, no waiting time—for first out-patient appointments—[HON. MEMBERS: "In Barnet?"] Yes, in Barnet. What does Barnet have that other areas, such as my own of Stockport, do not; or is that another case of inaccurately reported waiting times?

Ms Blears

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks about Lord Hunt. He was an able Minister and a close colleague who will be severely missed in our Department. The hon. Lady should know that we will commit £300 million to the national service framework, including £93.5 million this year. The children's national service framework will also address the issue of waiting times, which is a major priority in the planning and priorities framework for this year. Out-patient waiting times are too long, but clear action will be taken and the necessary investment made in the service to ensure that we reduce them.

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