HC Deb 19 May 2004 vol 421 cc965-7
4. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)

What proportion of respondents to the social exclusion unit's inquiry into mental health was made up of people who had experienced mental health problems. [173982]

7. Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op)

How many individuals with mental health problems contributed via the internet to the social exclusion unit inquiry into mental health. [173985]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill)

Of 950 written responses to the social exclusion unit consultation, 28 per cent. were from people with experience of mental health problems. There were 33 e-mailed responses, and 11 from groups. The SEU recognises the importance of engaging directly with adults with mental health problems. That is why it arranged a series of consultation events that involved some 500 people.

Dr. Iddon

In response to that inquiry, this week, Mind published a report entitled "Not alone?", which shows that 84 per cent. of people who suffer a mental health problem feel isolated, compared with 29 per cent. of the general population. Since ready use of a telephone was cited as helpful in overcoming that isolation, does my right hon. Friend agree that local authorities should be encouraged to provide helplines, such as Bolton metropolitan borough council's careline, to help vulnerable people, and that the delivery of all public services can play a role in removing the stigma of mental health problems and the discrimination that they bring?

Keith Hill

Like my hon. Friend, I welcome the Mind report, which calls attention to a number of important issues consistent with the findings of the SEU mental health project. I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the careline initiative in Bolton. The forthcoming SEU report will identify actions needed to improve access to advice and support for adults with mental health problems through, for example, primary care and a lessening of the financial insecurity that can reduce use of the telephone, which is so often a lifeline and a means of escape from isolation.

Dr. Naysmith

I too congratulate the Minister and the SEU on inquiring into links between mental health problems. What the Minister said about the contribution of the internet was fascinating, and raises further interesting questions. Mind's report "Not alone?", mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), found 72 per cent. of respondents to its survey believed online access was or could be beneficial; but 20 per cent. of those, who were either using or wishing to use the internet, did not have regular access to it. Have the Government any plans to enable people with mental health problems in particular to gain access to what is nowadays a basic communication tool?

Keith Hill

My hon. Friend is right. All the evidence suggests that those on the lowest incomes have least access to the internet. We realise that that is a particular difficulty for people with mental health problems, and we think it very important for them to have direct access to those making decisions on such issues. We expect the SEU report, which is about to be published, to make a major contribution to improving that access.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con)

If I were writing about mental health, I would be inclined to write to the Secretary of State for Health. It is currently rather difficult to know what is happening in mainstream Whitehall Departments, what policy is being drawn up in Cabinet Office units, and what policy is being drawn up in units in the Minister's Department. Could the Minister help us by reminding us in writing what units exist in the ODPM and what policies they are working on? That is a genuinely helpful question. It is particularly important for us to know when the SEU is to deal with new policies, so that we know when to make representations on them.

Keith Hill

I agree that joined-up government, as they say, is important in all aspects of government, and especially important in this context. The SEU report will go some way towards achieving a more seamless approach to mental health problems across Government, but I undertake to write to the hon. Gentleman explaining what routes are appropriate.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)

I was pleased to learn this morning that the SEU is employing people with direct experience of being at the receiving end of mental health services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one good way of combating the stigma and social exclusion suffered by people with mental health problems is to set a good example in terms of staff recruitment and retention? What are my right hon. Friend and the SEU doing to disseminate best practice in enlightened parts of the public service, and in private sector organisations such as BT?

Keith Hill

The purpose of the SEU report will be to improve dissemination of best practice. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for acknowledging the unit's determination to involve people with mental health problems. As she said, a member of the SEU's mental health team has experience of enduring mental health problems.