Norman Lamb calls for comprehensive waiting time standards for mental health

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Health, has called on the Government to commit to introducing comprehensive waiting time standards for people with mental illness.

During the Coalition Government, Norman Lamb and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, secured the first ever NHS waiting time standards in mental health. This meant that most people needing talking therapies for common mental health conditions like depression will receive treatment within 6 weeks from April 2015, while those experiencing their first episode of psychosis will receive the treatment they need within 2 weeks of being referred. 

Although this was important progress, there is still much more to be done to achieve equal rights of access to treatment on a timely basis between physical health and mental health. The five-year blueprint for mental health services – ‘Achieving Better Access to Mental Health Service by 2020’, which was published by Norman Lamb when he was a minister – stated that these standards “should be seen as just a starting point in an ambitious programme that by 2020 would aim to provide a comprehensive set of access and waiting time standards” in mental health.

Speaking in a House of Commons debate on mental health yesterday, Norman Lamb said:

“How can anyone in this Chamber possibly justify this: if someone has suspected cancer, they have a right to an appointment with a specialist within two weeks of referral by their GP, but a youngster with an eating disorder has no such right, yet we know that their condition can kill? That is a scandal and an outrage and it must change. There must be equality of access.”

Norman Lamb went on to press the Government to take two urgent actions to end this “historic injustice” and “discrimination at the heart of our NHS”:

  1. Spend money more effectively by focusing on early intervention, recovery, and crisis support in the community to prevent people with mental ill health being admitted to hospital.
  2. Invest in a new programme of comprehensive maximum waiting time standards, including for children and young people, so that there is an equilibrium of rights of access to treatment.

In response, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt paid tribute to Norman’s campaign, saying: “No one has done more in the House to campaign for mental health.”

The Health Secretary said that he will wait to consider the recommendations of the Mental Health Taskforce, which are due to be published in January 2016, before making a decision on the introduction of new waiting time standards. 

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Norman Lamb leads debate on mental health out-of-area placements

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, led a debate yesterday (3rd December) in the House of Commons to highlight the scandal of out-of-area mental health placements.

This is the practice of shunting people around the country to receive care during a mental health crisis. It usually happens because there are no available beds in the local area, and there have been numerous reports of people being sent hundreds of miles away from home to receive the support they need.

Being sent out-of-area during a mental health crisis – far away from someone’s family and friends – can be an extremely distressing and frightening experience. Evidence also indicates that being treated out-of-area significantly increases the risk of suicide after being discharged from hospital.  

Despite this, however, there were at least 501 people in a non-specialist mental health bed more than 50km away from their homes at the end of August, according to the latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre. The total number of out-of-area placements is also continuing to rise, increasing by 23% to 4,447 last year (based on research by Community Care and BBC News).

Speaking in the House of Commons debate, Norman Lamb said:

“Such a practice would never be tolerated in physical health services. Let us imagine, for example, someone who had had a stroke or with a heart condition being taken by ambulance […] to Cumbria from Norfolk. It would be an outrage. It would be regarded as a scandal, so it does not happen – yet it happens every week of the year in mental health. I regard that as discrimination at the heart of our NHS and it is one of the very many examples of how people who suffer from acute mental ill health are disadvantaged by the system.”

Norman Lamb challenged the Government to commit to ending the practice completely within 12 months. The Minister for Community and Social Services, Alistair Burt, responded by pledging to “address” out-of-area mental health placements but fell short of committing to eliminate the practice entirely.

The Minister will provide details of his plan to reduce out-of-area mental health placements by the end of April 2016, after the publication of reports by NHS England’s Mental Health Taskforce and Lord Crisp’s Commission on Acute Adult Psychiatric Care.

Norman Lamb said:

“This is not a difficult issue. It should become what in the NHS is known as a ‘never event’ – it should never happen. If we know that there is a link between out-of-area placements and an increased risk of suicide, how can we tolerate it? I set the objective of ending it within 12 months. That is achievable, provided that there is drive, ambition and purpose to make it happen.”

Norman Lamb and the Liberal Democrats continue to lead the fight to achieve genuine equality for people with mental ill health. 

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Norman Lamb MP: Statement on military action in Syria

Last night, it was with a heavy heart that I took the decision to vote against air strikes in Syria.

In the so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, we face the greatest threat to peace and democracy in our time. The atrocious attacks in Paris confirmed that this terrorist organisation is not constrained by any shred of mercy, humanity, or reason. Its sole barbaric aim is to perpetuate a state of chaos and fear through indiscriminate murder. It must be confronted, and it must be defeated. I am as committed as anyone to achieving this.

At the outset of yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister was absolutely right to emphasise that the question is not about whether we fight terrorism, but about how best we do that.

This week, I attended a high-level briefing for Privy Councillors on the merits of extending strike action across the border from Iraq to Syria. I have also read the key documents including the report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Prime Minister's response. 

Yesterday's debate was measured and well-reasoned on both sides of the House.

I do not have the certainty on this highly complex dilemma that some people profess, and I readily admit that this was one of the toughest decisions I have had to make as a Member of Parliament. I listened closely and weighed up the evidence at length, as I believe every MP has a duty to do on matters of such profound national and international importance. The arguments in favour of military intervention were persuasive. The question was whether bombing from the air made sense. Many of you will be aware that the majority of Liberal Democrat MPs voted in support of the Government’s plans, and I respect the view taken by my colleagues.

In the end, I was not convinced by the Government’s case. With the absence of ground forces and no clear long-term plan, there are serious doubts about whether air strikes will be effective as a means of degrading Daesh. My belief is that this old-fashioned and blunt instrument is not an appropriate response to a new and sophisticated threat. The force we seek to combat is dispersed in a civilian population, clandestine, and difficult to target with air strikes.

A bombing campaign is extremely likely to lead to large numbers of civilian deaths, greater instability in the region, and fuel the radicalisation of young people in a vulnerable population. These factors tie in with the apocalyptic narrative and recruitment strategy of Daesh. Critically, I could not be confident that the kind of action proposed by the Government would make people safer at home or in Syria. 

I am not a pacifist: I firmly believe we must take decisive action to eliminate terrorism. But I concluded that this step was not the answer we need. The House reached a different conclusion, which I respect, and I fully back our military personnel who risk their lives on active service in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the battle against terrorism.

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