On 11th January 2022, the Bishop of London spoke in support of a group of amendments to the Health and Care Bill aimed at addressing shortfalls in mental health funding:
The Lord Bishop of London: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have tabled the amendments in this group. I am very aware of the expertise that exists within this Chamber. As we have heard, mental health has not always been funded in the same way as physical health. However, we have seen improvements, not least in the way we speak about our own mental well-being. We have seen a reduction in stigma and an improvement in services, but the pandemic has taught us that there is a huge unmet need around mental health, and I suspect we will not know the full impact of the pandemic for a number of years. Clearly, those groups of people requiring support around their mental health will include us and our children as well as our health and social care workers.
I am aware that in our churches, we do a lot, like other faith communities and other community groups, to support people’s mental health and enable their mental well-being to flourish, not least through our faith activities and our worship. Churches put on many activities, such as dementia cafés; we make available our outdoor spaces for people to undertake gardening to improve their mental well-being; we do walking; we reduce loneliness and isolation, to name just a few. But we are aware that we are not mental health professionals. We walk with people, often in the early stages of mental illness or while they are waiting for referral, and what those within our churches know is that the length of waiting is getting longer. The wait for access to mental health services, particularly talking therapies, has got much longer.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, mentioned the figures; we see the personal impact of that, as people’s lives are put into great crisis and they struggle. Not least, it brings stress to their family and friends, and it impacts on their ability to earn. As has already been said, it impacts on their physical health as well. I recognise that we have increased our determination to ensure that there is parity between physical and mental health funding but I believe we require legislative levers to make this happen. Therefore, I support particularly Amendments 5, 12 and 136 as well as Amendment 99. As we have already said, we need legislative levers at every level to address this parity. My belief is that this will contribute to not just the mental well-being of the community but its physical well-being.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Kamal (Con, Department of Health & Social Care): I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London: we have come a long way. I remember as a child in the 1970s going to visit my uncle who was a psychiatric nurse at Claybury Hospital and looking at the patients, with the innocence of a child, and thinking, “These people don’t look ill to me.” We have come far since then. I remember the Rampton hospital scandal in the late 1970s, where the patients were treated appallingly, almost not as humans, and with a lack of dignity. The fact that today we are discussing the parity of mental with physical health shows how far we have come as a society.
We also spoke about loneliness and isolation. The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, and I have had conversations about loneliness and some of the civil society projects that, for example, bring together lonely older people with children from broken homes so that both can benefit and learn from each other. I remember a story that I have mentioned in the past: in one of the projects I visited, a rather old man said, “I lost my wife five years ago and I had almost given up on life. The fact that I am now working with children from broken families and am almost being a mentor to them gives me a purpose to live—a reason to get up in the morning. I have no longer given up on life.” There are so many of these civil society projects, and no matter how we legislate, sometimes those local projects get to the nub of the problem in their local communities.
I have to pay attention when not only two former NHS chief executive officers but the former Chief Nursing Officer speak in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, talked about the focus on outcomes, not inputs and how it is important to make sure that we are not gaming the system, mentioning mental illness and mental health but not doing anything effective about it.
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