HL Deb 09 April 1981 vol 419 cc669-71
Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how much money is to be allocated for permanent psychiatric secure units in the new financial year, and how many places are likely to be available at the end of that year.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

My Lords, revenue and capital cash limits for the 1981–82 financial year were notified to regional health authorities on 25th February 1981. Revenue of £10.2 million is available for the development of regional secure units or interim secure facilities. Capital amounting to £6.9 million has been set aside for allocation for approved schemes. The unit at St. Luke's Hospital, Middlesbrough, providing 30 places, will still be the only permanent unit open at the end of 1981–82.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply—she will not be surprised if I find it a trifle disappointing—may I ask whether it is still the policy of the Government that there should be 1,000 places in these units, at any rate to start with? And given the rate of progress since the Butler Committee made that recommendation seven years ago this month (a recommendation which was accepted by the Government of the day), is it the thought that this first programme will be completed by the end of this decade, or by the end of this century?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I recognise that there has been very considerable delay in the implementation of the programme. I understand there has been opposition in many places to the establishment of regional secure units, opposition from both staff and members of the public. The noble Lord may like to know that four regional secure units, which will provide 160 places, are already under construction and that another two will be by the end of this year, and they will provide 136 places. The Government are still committed to the programme but I cannot comment on when it might be completed.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, would the Minister agree that the paucity of psychiatric secure units is now a national disgrace, that people are being sent to prison and kept there when they should be treated in these units, and is it not correct to say that in previous years when money was allocated to regional health authorities to provide these units, they spent it largely on other purposes? Does the noble Baroness agree that if money is to be provided in the future, it should be reserved exclusively for the provision of units of this kind?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I accept that there are people in prison who would be better looked after in these units. It is precisely for that reason that the Government remain committed to this policy. However, for the reasons I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, there has been a delay in their establishment. So far as finance is concerned, the money comes from general funds voted to the National Health Service, and regional health authorities have been allowed to spend money which is generally allocated also on the improvement of general psychiatric services.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the very difficult situation in the Oxford region where there has been disagreement between the Department of Health and Social Security and the Regional Health Board, thereby holding up the establishment of a secure unit? And, again, what has happened to the money in that instance?

Baroness Young

My Lords, with the permission of the noble Baroness, I will write to her about that situation.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, will places be reserved for women as well as men and will these units be spread around the country? I understand that one is shortly to be opened in Wakefield, but may we have an assurance that there will be others throughout the country?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I can certainly give an assurance that the proposals cover units in different parts of the country. I understand that they will be open to women as well as men.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that there are a sufficient number of qualified people to look after those in these psychiatric units?

Baroness Young

My understanding is that there are enough qualified people, my Lords, but if I may, I will write to the noble Lord on that issue; and if he has some particular service in mind perhaps he will let me know and I will look into it.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, while I appreciate that the numbers in the units, both permanent and interim, are still very small, may I ask the Minister to say whether any of those concerned come either from prison or from Broadmoor or one of the other special hospitals?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not have information about the exact nature of the reasons why people who are currently in either secure or interim units are there. We know, as I indicated, that there are a large number of people currently in prison who should be in these secure facilities, and no doubt there are some currently there from prisons, but I do not have before me information about the precise numbers.

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