Mental Health and Long-term Conditions — [Sir Robert Syms in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall am 2:38 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Minister (Women's Health and Mental Health) 2:38, 16 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Robert. I thank my hon. Friend Peter Dowd for securing this important debate. I know that this is a topic very close to his heart, particularly as he is an officer of the all-party parliamentary health group. He recently gave a keynote speech about mental health and wellbeing for the NHS and social care for Westminster Insight. Today he has highlighted a number of important issues and concerns regarding mental health and long- term conditions. I am pleased to respond on behalf of the Opposition.

My hon. Friend raised many of his points in the words of organisations that have done a lot of work and research into how long-term conditions impact individuals. I was particularly touched by how he talked about the impact of limited access to mental health support and poor palliative healthcare. He said that he did a Cook’s tour of what all the organisations have said, and I hope the Minister takes the words of those organisations on board.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) for their contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on rare, genetic and undiagnosed conditions, talked about how different conditions have impacted people. If improvements could be made in conditions like diabetes and Parkinson’s, people’s mental health could improve. She focused on the difficulties facing those with rare conditions and highlighted the powerful statistic that 3.5 million people—one in 17—are impacted. She talked about a parent who said that you end up fighting battles that you did not really know existed.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr for sharing his personal experience. He talked about issues relating to transplants and about how his transplant has changed his life, as well as the impact on the mental health of patients who go through dialysis. He also talked about how 67% of kidney patients experience depression and 68% are not offered any mental health support.

It is fitting that we are addressing this crucial topic in Mental Health Awareness Week. I pay tribute to all the fantastic mental health charities that are fighting the fight and leading the way across the UK. They include the Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Centre for Mental Health, Rethink Mental Illness, the Samaritans, YoungMinds and many more. Alongside those brilliant charities, this week we have observed schools, universities, businesses, community groups and many other organisations coming together, including here in Parliament, to raise awareness of the importance of our mental health and combatting the lingering stigma that remains in our society. I put on the record my thanks to the House of Commons Library for its research in the area.

In recent years, talking about mental health has finally stepped out of the shadows, and we are better off as a result. However, while we celebrate the progress that has been made, we cannot overlook the scale of the challenges that we face. Sadly, I have to say that after 14 years in office, this Government have failed to deliver the mental health services that our country desperately needs and deserves. It has never been as bad as it is today: I hear that time and again from the patients, families and NHS frontline staff who I have been fortunate to meet since I was appointed to this role.

The statistics on the crisis are clear. More than 1.9 million people are waiting for mental health treatment. Almost 1 million children and young people in England were referred to mental health services last year, and more than 33,000 children and young people are still waiting, after two years, for a first contact from community mental health services. A recent report by Centre for Mental Health estimated that the crisis is costing us £300 billion a year, which is twice as big as NHS England’s annual budget.

Suicide is the biggest killer in this country. The rates are the same as they were 20 years ago, and they are rising. When it comes to those with long-term physical and mental health conditions, we must be particularly concerned. Far too many people are leaving the labour market, and many are no longer able to work. Work is good for mental health and can bring pride, fulfilment and purpose, yet the number of people out of work because of long-term sickness is at a staggering all-time high of 2.8 million. The reality is that this crisis has occurred under successive Tory Governments. Britain has become unwell, with millions languishing on waiting lists and far too many living in conditions of poverty, poor housing and financial insecurity that worsen their mental health.

We cannot stand by as the crisis continues, which is why we need to address the challenges together. As has been mentioned, we need to work across Departments in Whitehall and oh so directly at the heart of our communities. A Labour Government will do that by injecting resources and reforming NHS mental health services. We cannot just turn around at the shocking figures that my colleagues have produced in this debate; we have to completely overhaul the way that our country approaches mental health. For example, we need a prevention-based approach, where people can access mental health support in the community when they first need it, rather than wait until they reach crisis point. Prevention is not only socially just but economically efficient, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle mentioned. It saves lives and it saves money.

Labour will give the NHS the staff it needs by recruiting 8,500 more mental health specialists to cut waiting lists and waiting times. We will also provide mental health support in every school and an open-access mental health hub for children and young people in every community. Those plans will be fully paid for by abolishing tax loopholes for private equity managers and ending tax breaks for private schools.

We cannot discuss the topic of mental health without talking about the long-awaited reform of the Mental Health Act 1983. Labour has committed to include reform of the Act in our first King’s Speech. The Tories promised those reforms in their 2017 and 2019 manifestos, but have failed time and time again to deliver. The treatment of people with autism and learning disabilities under this outdated legislation disgraces our society, and the way in which black people are disproportionately impacted is indefensible. This law is not fit for purpose and needs to change. If elected, Labour will change it.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle for bringing forward the debate. I also want to make it clear how inspiring it has been to witness the widespread and positive contribution of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, this week. There is a clear yearning from the public, especially our young people, to end the stigma and treat mental health with the same urgency as physical health. We must transform that pressure into action.