Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
My Lords, from these Benches we would also like to thank Sir Simon Wessely for his report. We welcome reform to the outdated Mental Health Act and we are pleased to see that the Wessely review is finally being implemented by the Government, even if they are not accepting all the recommendations. The Liberal Democrats pledged in 2019 to implement all the recommendations of Sir Simon’s review, including bringing forward the necessary investment to modernise and improve patient settings and ambulances. We will apply the principle of “care, not containment” to mental health, while ensuring an emergency bed is always available if needed. Sadly, that has not been the case in recent years.
The Statement talks of the Mental Health Act 1983 and how it was designed to protect those who presented a risk to themselves or to others, but it has long been unfit for purpose, with some practices adding more distress to those already struggling with mental health conditions. I am sure most of us have seen that with our families and friends, because everybody knows somebody who has had mental health problems. For too long, people from ethnic minority groups, as well as autistic people and those with learning disabilities, have been unfairly detained under this Act and it has caused huge distress and damage, not only to the individuals themselves but to their families too.
Shockingly, black people are more than four times more likely to be detained under the Act and more than 10 times more likely to be subject to a community treatment order. The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, said it is important to eliminate racism in mental health and criminal justice system interventions for those with mental health problems. This is long overdue. It is or has been, frankly, institutional racism, and it is time that it is dealt with very quickly.
That people with learning disabilities and those who are autistic are being detained under the Act even when they do not suffer from any mental health conditions is appalling. The Statement says that the Bill will change this, but can the Minister assure us that the Government are serious about tackling these issues and will have no cause to delay this Bill again? While pre-legislative scrutiny is important, it should not lead to further delays in getting the Bill on the statute book next year.
It is good that the Statement announces £150 million over the next three years to bolster mental health services, especially to support people in crisis and avoid their having to attend A&E, which is not good for them and not good for A&E either, but I ask the Minister, since it is not clear from the Statement: is this entirely new money, or is it coming out of the mental health budget that was announced?
It is good that patient safety will be enhanced, but what is being proposed to bring much of the elderly and decrepit mental health building stock up to date and suitable for the 21st century? Some of the buildings are not just unsafe; they are actually not very pleasant places to be either.
The cost of living crisis continues to have a significant impact on families and the demand for mental health services for parents with young families is increasing, but the support to deliver these services is simply not keeping pace with demand, with nurses reporting cuts to funding and staff shortages. What plans does the Minister have in place to improve access to mental health services for new parents?
The Statement mentions the important proposals to give patients more control over their care and treatment. This is vital. We in the disabled community say that there should be nothing about us without us, and that is true too for those with mental health issues. The proposal for the nominated person to be chosen by the patient is a great step forward too, but that may well be hard for family members not selected as the nominated person, who may be excluded from any information about their family member’s mental health or progress, or as my honourable friend Daisy Cooper MP said yesterday, may not even know which part of the country their family member is staying in. This is part of the navigation of a future which is important to get right for the patient, while making sure that close family members who are worried about their loved ones are not cut out of the information loop entirely. Perhaps the Minister can give us some indication of how this trickly situation could be navigated.
The Government have said that they are accepting most of the recommendations of the Wessely review, but I add my concern to that expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron: why have some not been accepted? Having said that, we accept the Wessely review and look forward to the pre-legislative scrutiny and the opportunity to discuss this Bill in detail when it comes into Parliament.