Thursday, 15 January 2015

Together for Mental Health - Assembly Ministers have their say

Assembly Ministers debated the second Annual Report on Together for Mental Health on Tuesday in the National Assembly for Wales. I watched a large chunk of the debate online on Senedd TV, and you can read the Record of Proceedings here, and dip into video records, to catch up. (Start at 16.26pm, unless you want to find out more about the local government settlement…)

Together for Mental Health sets out Welsh Government ambitions for improving mental health and a vision for mental health services across Wales and was published in 2012. It is the first mental health strategy for Wales that covers people of all ages.

Vaughan Gething, the Deputy Minister for Health, introduced the debate by saying: Mental health services have made real progress throughout 2014. By further embedding the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010, we are continuing to make tangible improvements to care whilst ensuring service users’ views are heard. On average, over 2,600 people are now seen locally every month by primary mental health support services. These deliver advice, information and services, including befriending, books on prescription, physical activity and psychological therapies.

His introduction also included a reference to the work around dementia in Brecon’s dementia friendly community which we have previously written about here. A groundswell of interest in dementia support of communities has seen Brecon and Swansea recently gain official ‘working to become dementia-friendly’ status, and I am proud that we are continuing to fund the charity (The Alzheimer’s Society) to continue this important work in Wales.

Darren Millar, AM, who moved several amendments, said that: There’s no doubt that there has been progress, and long may it continue, but the pace of progress, I think, is something that we need to address. He also acknowledged the contribution of the Third Sector: I would like to put on record… the acknowledgement of the fantastic work that the third sector is doing to address mental ill health issues in Wales, whether that is Mind, Gofal, Hafal or the whole host of other organisations—local organisations, as well—that are doing their bit.

Prior to the debate the mental health charity Gofal had carried out a survey of people who had been in contact with services, and circulated the findings to Assembly Ministers. Whilst the survey highlighted some positive changes, there were also concerns expressed in the findings. Darren continued: One in 10 GPs, and a growing proportion of GPs, according to service users, do not understand or are insufficiently empathetic to mental ill health issues. More alarmingly, a quarter of other staff in primary care are insufficiently understanding or empathetic of people’s concerns.

Darren continued: The other issue, of course, as well, is that it appears that a growing proportion of people are simply having pharmaceutical interventions rather than some of the psychological interventions that I know all parts of this Chamber support the need to increase and improve access to.

Kirsty Williams, AM for Brecon and Radnorshire, wanted to know what steps were being taken to ensure parity between physical and mental health services. She pointed out that progress had been made in reducing the stigma associated with mental health, but that this brought its own problems. Members will have heard those problems highlighted in the all-party group this afternoon, where there certainly was a feeling that, perhaps, the report was on the rosier side of how things felt on the ground to those people using the service, to the third sector organisations involved in helping deliver services for people in communities, and to people caring for relatives or friends who are suffering from mental distress and ill health.

David Rees, AM, who had chaired the cross-party meeting on mental health just prior to the debate, said: It was felt that service user and carer representation on the national partnership board needed greater support to actually ensure that the diverse views across Wales could be fed into the board through improved pathways to achieve that engagement. I therefore hope that the Deputy Minister will be able to give reassurances that the individuals who represent the service users and carers on that partnership board will be given that support to engage with a wide range of bodies to allow a wider spectrum of views to be presented in order that services can be shaped to continue the improvements we have seen to date.

Other issues debated included:

  • The pressure on Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services.
  • The Veterans NHS Wales Service.
  • Access to crisis beds.
  • Care and treatment plans.
  • Mental distress in the workplace.
Vaughan Gething made closing comments to respond to many of the issues raised. There is not space to address all of these here, but I will just pick out his response to David Rees’ point above. Vaughan said: Patient voice and choice in designing healthcare is a core element of our prudent healthcare approach….I want to, in closing, recognise again the contribution of the wider voluntary sector in helping to deliver not just support, both the design and delivery of our services here in Wales.

You can read more about the amendments that were tabled and voted upon and the outcomes on the Record of Proceedings here (from 17.27pm).

The Assembly Ministers have had their say. Do you think Together for Mental Health is working effectively to bring about improvements in the planning and delivery of mental health services in Wales? Let us know in the comments box below.

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