Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Fighting to protect local mental health services against Government cuts - Southwark News Column


1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental health illness at some stage in our lives.  We will all know someone who has gone through depression or anxiety, or a more complex condition such as bi-polar disorder and I have helped a number of people living in Camberwell and Peckham who have got into problems arising from mental ill health.

For too long we, as a society, haven’t felt able to talk about mental illness with the same openness as we talk about our physical health. Indeed it was only in 2012 that MPs spoke for the first time in a debate in Parliament about their own mental health problems. Kevan Jones, the MP for North Durham, spoke about how he coped with depression and Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes, spoke about the severe post-natal depression she suffered.

Challenging the taboo and stigma is important. But we need to ensure that mental health services are given the same priority as other services. If you have cancer or suffer a broken leg, the NHS has targets for treating you as quickly as possible. But if you’re depressed or anxious it can be 6 months before you’re able to see a mental health specialist. NSPCC research shows that 150 children a day are rejected for treatment and only 1 in 3 children and young people will get the support they need. With just 0.7% of the NHS budget going on children’s mental health, the government must urgently provide more money.

The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) in Camberwell is the largest provider of mental health services in the UK. Their pioneering work is essential in preventing children and adults reaching crisis point. They are at the forefront of tackling mental illness stigma and run innovative support programmes in the community, using former patients to help support people recovering from a crisis, and making it easier for more people to access help quickly using social media like Twitter.

SLaM is doing a very important job.  But Tory cuts since 2010 have left the Trust with 112 fewer mental health nurses and a 23% staff shortage, with over 1,000 vacancies. These cuts cause more distress to patients and end up costing the taxpayer. The Maudsley Hospital is at full capacity with 100% bed occupancy and the time a patient stays in the Maudsley has gone up from 15 days to 25 days. Some patients stay longer because there is nowhere they can go when they are discharged. If you don’t have the right support in place when you leave hospital, you are more likely to relapse and end up going back in. The bed crisis is causing knock-on pressure on the neighbouring A&E at King’s College Hospital which has seen an increase in people needing mental health support because they have nowhere else to go.

This month I am having meetings with groups of SlaM’s community healthcare specialists, governors, and the Chief Executive, Dr Matthew Patrick, to discuss how we can work together to insist the government gives them the resources they need to protect patient care. The hospital cannot improve or retain staff without money. That’s why I am backing Labour’s call for the government to ring-fence mental health budgets and strengthen patients’ legal right to talking therapies.

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