Baroness Pinnock, Baroness Thornhill, Wera Hobhouse and one token man at the event held by the LGA in the Commons to promote action for children’s mental health.
The coalition did not get everything right but one of the things that I was most proud of was the way that Norman Lamb as Health Minister and Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister strongly supported the case for more money and more action for mental health issues. In particular they supported the need to put mental health on an equivalent footing to physical health and for early interventions in children’s mental health.
This led to the Government putting £1 billion a year into improved mental health services. Or did it? Certainly, that was the intention and the money was made available to the NHS and local delivery was supposed to be made through the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). When I have asked locally where the money went and with what success the CCG have been unable to answer. When the LGA nationally has asked Ministers and senior civil servants at NHS England or Public Health England where the money went they say they gave it to CCGs.
In other words, no-one knows where the money went in detail. It just went into a black hole of NHS spending with no accountability and no ideas of the outputs and outcomes that it should have produced. It probably was used, as is most money, to pay for the increasing demands of the acute institutions.
That is why I was pleased to be present at the launch of a week-long event in the House of Commons yesterday about children’s mental health issues and even more pleased that it was sponsored by Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse. Considering we have a small number of Parliamentarians in both houses almost half the MPs and Peers that turned up to the event were Lib Dems.
Let me give you the statistics the LGA gave out yesterday:
- At least one in ten children and young people are affected by mental health problems. The unreported figure is likely to be even higher and growing.
- Over half of all mental ill health starts before the age of 14.
- The average waiting time for children and young people to access mental health services rages from 14 to 200 days.
So why the call for parity between physical and mental health and the idea of increasing investment into children’s activities? The answers are blindingly obvious. Firstly, the problems of physical and mental health are very often closely linked. Many people are depressed because of their obesity. Does the depression cause them to eat to feel better or does the eating lead to the depression? The answer is to both questions depending on the individual.
Secondly if you can get the right assistance to young people it can ward off the problems for the whole of their life. They can be removed from problems which afflict them or can be supported into finding their own solutions to those problems.
Some of those solutions can be quick and cheap:
“I came out when I was 13 to my Mum. But I still felt very isolated and I didn’t have anyone to talk to” Marco, now 14 is being helped by the New Beginnings LGBT youth group in Sefton which provides a self-help group for Marco and similar youngsters.
“I was diagnosed with Autism recently. My support worker suggested I join Yoga classes after I had a really difficult time” Sarah 14 was helped by Young Minds Yoga in Bedford where young people can exercise, relax and chat.
But it is not only the young people who are helped but their families. “I was in a bad place and I felt really alone – I felt like with the Social involved it was over. But they really helped me become the parent I wanted to be. I’m not a bad mum; I just needed help.” Angelina was given that help by the Family Safeguarding Project in Hertfordshire.
The LGA believes that the money available is not enough and that it is not being spent on the right things. For every £1 spent on preventative help, for example on respite breaks, children’s centres and the diversionary work that youth offending teams undertake £4 is spent on reactive child protection work.
The Children’s Commissioner has estimated that it just £5.08 per student to deliver an emotional resilience programme in a school. It costs £2,338 to assist young people in a community-based service. At the other end it costs £61,000 to admit a young person to a specialist unit.
Spending money up front saves money but more importantly saves lives. Part of my work as the Lib Spokesman on all the health committees supported by the Liverpool Council will be to check that the money is getting through to the programmes for young people and that the NHS understands why there should be the parity of care and compassion for mental and physical health.
This is not a matter of party politics just pure compassion and concern for the future of some young people caught up with problems of their family and society as a whole which they did not create and which we need to help them solve.