Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Article - 13th January 2016

We’re just one week into this year’s Parliamentary calendar, but there have already been some important steps forward. In my first column of 2016, I wrote about how the Government plans to step in and directly commission thousands of new affordable homes over the next five years.

There was another important announcement this week which concerns an issue close to my heart – mental health services.  I’ve done a great deal of work on this in South Swindon and in Parliament, so I’m pleased that the Government has agreed to a complete overhaul of the system.

Quite often, mental health conditions, particularly in children and young people, go undiagnosed, untreated or unnoticed. I’m pleased that our Government is taking positive steps to change this and put mental health on an equal footing with physical health.

Speaking on Monday, the Prime Minister announced a range of new measures which form an investment package of almost a billion pounds to enhance mental health services across the country.

Part of this package is an investment of £290 million over the next four years, targeted towards helping new and expectant mums who experience mental health problems. 1 in 5 new mothers develop a mental health problem around the time of the birth of their child, and this money will mean that at least 30,000 more women each year will have access to the specialist mental healthcare they need.

Sometimes, a failure to diagnose or treat this type of illness can lead to suicide.  Many of us will remember a tragic local case several years ago where a mother who was suffering from significant mental health problems took her own life in the most distressing of circumstances.  Since then, her family have consistently made the case for more mother and baby beds and I very much hope that this funding will help this to become a reality.

A further £247 million will go towards making sure that every hospital emergency department has a dedicated mental health service. People with mental health problems are 3 times more likely to turn up at A&E than those without, and every hospital in the country should be properly equipped and trained to make sure that patients get the right care and further support if needed.

This money will be used over the next 5 years to make sure that these services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in at least half of England’s acute hospitals by 2020. This funding will not only improve the care of those with mental illness in A&E but will also create important savings for these hospitals – through fewer admissions and reduced lengths of stay.

We will also see faster care and expanded services for teenagers with eating disorders. We know that eating disorders are most likely to affect those aged between 14 and 25 and, if they go untreated for more than 3 to 5 years, the chances of recovery are greatly lessened, while incidents of self-harm go up. Anorexia kills more people than any other mental health condition, which is why I am pleased that steps are being taken to improve these vital services.

As a backbench MP, I campaigned for improved ways of monitoring mental health treatments and even introduced a Bill in Parliament to help get the issue on the agenda.  I was very glad to see that the Government listened, and 2017/2018 a new waiting time measure will track the increasing number of patients being seen within a month of being referred, or within a week for urgent cases.

There will also be an improved waiting time target for people experiencing psychosis which will be introduced in April this year. Around 75% of mental illness in adult life begins before the age of 18 and it is estimated that 17,000 people a year experience a first episode of psychosis. While care across the country has been improving, there have not yet been national standards setting out a clear timeframe for care. This means that those experiencing psychosis for the first time must be treated within 2 weeks, rising to at least 60% by 2020, which is excellent news.

Over £400 million will be invested for crisis home resolution teams to deliver 24/7 treatment in communities and homes as a safe and effective alternative to hospitals. Crisis resolution and home treatment teams have been introduced throughout England as part of a transformation of the community mental healthcare system. They aim to assess all patients being considered for acute hospital admission, to offer intensive home treatment rather than hospital admission if feasible, and to facilitate early discharge from hospital. Key features include 24-hour availability and intensive contact in the community, with visits twice daily if needed.

The new investment in this integrated, multidisciplinary approach will ensure more complete coverage around the country.

In local news, I have been talking to lead Councillors and local interest groups in the past few weeks about ways in which the future of Lydiard House and Country Park can be best secured.  I support the Council’s wish to find more sustainable ways in which our much-loved amenity can be managed and acknowledge the financial pressures that they are under.  An issue like this is always going to generate strong feelings, which demonstrates to me that our community cares deeply about Lydiard, as I do.  I was very encouraged to see that staff and the local community have expressed an interest in managing Lydiard.  As those involved in the debate are all local residents and users of Lydiard, I believe that a way forward can be found that preserves the character of Lydiard Park whilst improving the way in which it is run.  I will do all that I can to help achieve this outcome.

If you want to find out about how I continue to represent residents of South Swindon Parliament, take a look at my ‘In Parliament’ page on my website here:

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any national or issues that you would like to raise, or you would like to come and see me at one of my next advice surgeries.