Improving Local Mental Health Services

Last October, in this column, I asked local organisations to work together and consider applying to the new Beyond Places of Safety Fund.

Applications had just been opened for a new £15 million fund to improve support for people who experience a range of mental health conditions that put them at risk of an acute mental health crisis.

The Beyond Places of Safety fund is the successor to the original Places of Safety programme which was established, alongside the Crisis Care Concordat, to confront one of the quiet scandals within mental health system – namely the thousands of people left in a police cell following a detention under the Mental Health Act.

The new funding for the Places of Safety Programme, coupled with the ingenuity and partnerships forged between statutory and voluntary organisations under local Crisis Care agreements, has seen the number detained in police custody following a mental health crisis drop by over 80% over the last five years. New regulations have also come into effect to ensure that police custody is only used in exceptional circumstances under careful medical and police supervision. No young person can be held in custody.

Having spent time with Cornwall Resus and Street Pastors in our local towns on a Saturday night, as well as shadowing staff at A&E at Treliske, I am aware of the challenges that our front line public service professionals are facing with people in crisis.

I listened carefully to their opinions which informed my actions when I was Chair of the National Crisis Concordat, a role I held when I was the Home Office Minister responsible for vulnerable people, domestic violence, drug and alcohol strategy, amongst other matters. I have seen at first hand the difference that funding common sense innovations – driven by passionate third sector organisations, working in partnership with the NHS – are making to how people are treated when they become acutely unwell.

I am delighted that Cornwall is benefitting from the new Beyond Places of Safety Fund.  £1.5 million will be invested in the new hub at Treliske which will enable partners, including Addaction, to ensure that local people have the wrapped around care they need.  Support that not only treats the symptoms but also tackles the root cause of their crisis which can include a wide range of issues from sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and substance misuse to homelessness. Treating the whole person rather than just their mental health crisis should lead to better outcomes for the people concerned as well as reducing demand for emergency care at Treliske.

There may be no magic bullet to stem the rising tide of mental ill health – but innovative community initiatives can make a make a real difference to keeping people safe.

Along with plans to train a million people in basic mental health first aid skills – the first country in the world to have this scale of ambition – we will continue to invest in NHS mental health services, training more professionals, and aiming to treat more people than ever before.

First published in the West Briton 31/05/18


Rising Living Standards and Wellbeing

How does a country measure its success? The most reported measure of success is economic with gross domestic product (GDP) probably most often quoted. Of course ensuring people have the opportunity to reach their potential in their chosen occupation is important and this week’s good news of record levels of people from all backgrounds and ages in employment and growing wages is welcome. More of our children and young people are receiving a good education compared to 2010 and average life expectancy continues to rise. All these measure progress.

There is a growing recognition that how we are doing as a nation is at least as much about people’s well-being as it is about the country’s economic health.

In November 2010, David Cameron established the Measuring National Well-being (MNW) programme. The aim was to monitor and report “how the UK is doing” by producing accepted and trusted measures of the well-being of the nation. Twice a year the independent Office for National Statistics report progress against a set of headline indicators covering areas of our lives including our health, natural environment, personal finances and crime.

The measures include both objective data (unemployment rate) and subjective data (satisfaction with job) to provide a more complete view of the nation’s progress than economic measures can do alone.

The latest update of the Measuring of National Well-being programme published in April provides a broadly positive picture of life in the UK, with most indicators either improving or staying the same over the short-term (one year) and long-term (five years). It shows the strengths and challenges of different age groups in society. These insights can help target services where they are most needed and can have the best impact.

This programme has led to significant positive changes in the development of policy, particularly the promotion of good mental health and a very welcome focus on understanding and treating mental ill health. We changed the law so that mental health is taken as seriously as physical health.

The fastest growing NHS spending is on mental health £11.86 billion last year, with further growth committed.  Spending by local GP NHS Commissioners on children and young people’s mental health services grew by £103 million between 2015/16 and 2016/17, up to £619 million. This is a 20 per cent increase year on year. I am pleased that our new residential children and young people’s mental health service in Bodmin is underway.

Last week, I visited Roseland Community College, an outstanding local school, and listened to children and staff who are participating in HeadStart Kernow. It’s a partnership between Cornwall Council, our local NHS, schools, voluntary sector organisations and the National Lottery. It aims to build resilience and mental wellbeing for children and young people and from what I heard is doing a good job. This vital prevention work matters to children now and in the future as the causes of mental ill health in adults often starts in childhood.

First published in the West Briton 17/05/18

In too many workplaces, mental health remains the last taboo – and this needs to change

Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf. These are some of history’s greatest names, best-known for their genius and creativity. And rightfully so.

What many people might not know is that they battled with poor mental health at various points in their lives. The taboo of mental ill health kept these struggles from the history books.

I’m heartened to see that in my lifetime we are much more open and willing to talk about mental ill health, with Mental Health Awareness week an opportunity to turn up the volume on these conversations.

But in too many workplaces it remains the last taboo – and this needs to change.

There is a growing body of evidence that good work is good for our health and that being out of work can have a detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing.

The latest employment figures show that there are now 32.3 million people in work – including more than 3.5 million disabled people. There are opportunities for everyone to enjoy the benefits of employment if they are well enough to do so, including those with mental health conditions.

But if we are to feel those benefits, what is equally important is that our workplace provides an environment that supports good mental health.

The theme of this week’s Mental Health Awareness Week is stress. The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, affecting 526,000 workers.

Failure to address poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year – that’s a cost of between £1,205 and £1,560 per employee. This is something which cannot be ignored, and it’s essential that Government and businesses join forces to tackle this taboo.

Already, we’re taking innovative action across employment and health services to ensure support is joined up around people so they get the best possible chance to succeed in work.

We’re more than doubling the number of employment advisers working in the NHS 2019, enabling greater provision of integrated psychological treatment and employment support. And we’re at the forefront in testing different models to join up health and employment support in a range of healthcare settings, for example in GP surgeries and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

On top of this, our Access to Work scheme provides personalised support for people whose disability or health condition affects them in the workplace and can include assistive technology, interpreters and our Mental Health Support Service. This week we reached a milestone of helping 11,000 people. The support helps provide people with tailored employment support and has an extraordinary success rate with 93% of people who have used the service still in their jobs after six months. We’ve developed an enhanced mental health training programme for Jobcentre Plus work coaches too.

But there is more to do. We know that poor mental health affects people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. It doesn’t discriminate, and affects around one in four across their lifetime. That’s why this Government has put improving mental health at the heart of our plans to improve wellbeing, and that’s why we are working with employers to get the support right.

First published on Politics Home 17/05/18

Integration of Health and Social Care

Thank you to everyone who played their part in helping keep Cornwall warm, well and on the move during the recent very cold weather and storms.

Less noticeable but just as chilling as the recent weather is the further take over of our local Labour Party by the hard left. The resignation of the group leader on Cornwall Council follows others from across the country who describe bullying, intimidation, threats and anti-Semitism against themselves and colleagues who do not agree with the hard left Momentum, Corbyn’s support group within the Labour Party.

As Cornwall Council is led by Liberal Democrats, you may not think this matters too much to us locally. But it does. It is having a chilling effect on the decisions that the leadership of Cornwall Council need to take to improve our vitally important local public services.

Clear evidence of this is the press release snuck out by Cornwall Council last week while the Duchy was dealing with the impact of the severe weather.

The press release announced the decision of the Cabinet not to take significant action to improve our health and care system in Cornwall. They have chosen not to take the common sense step of joining up and integrating our health and care services. They will not support the development of a local Accountable Care System, despite the support of the leaders of our local NHS and care services and despite the success of this type of approach in other parts of the country such as Manchester.

Our whole health and care system in Cornwall is currently in “special measures” receiving additional help from NHS England to make the vital improvements we need to see. The past mistakes of Cornwall Council are well documented, poor social care commissioning, poor relationships with our local NHS and lack of integration of health and care services – all contributing to the current problems.

The Cabinet made one of the most important decisions that will effect every one of us – alone. Why did they not allow all our Councillors a say? Why no debate in public for us all to see? The Scrutiny Panel of the Council has been leading an Inquiry into a proposed Accountable Care System. The Councillors worked really hard with a wide range of health care professionals to inform their recommendations. Why is there work being ignored?

Why? Because the Corbyn led, Momentum controlled Labour Party is running a nation wide scare campaign against the creation of local Accountable Care Systems. They falsely claim this will lead to the privatisation and Americanisation of our NHS. The Inquiry into the Cornwall ACS investigated these claims and found that they were not true. However, our Lib Dem Council is running scared of making the changes that will improve services for local people because they are bowing to this pressure.

The leaders of Cornwall Council have put politics before people. Along with my Conservative Cornwall Councillors I urge them to rethink and enable the whole Council a say.

First published in the West Briton 08/03/18

Supporting high quality local journalism

Last year, as part of the BBC charter renewal process, I campaigned for greater investment in high quality local journalism. BBC Radio Cornwall and Spotlight do a great job but I think we need additional news reporting. As more decisions, including about public expenditure is devolved across the UK, including Cornwall, it’s more important than ever that the media hold to account local politicians and public services.

I am pleased that the BBC set aside £8m a year to pay for 150 reporters, who will work for local news organisations rather than the BBC. The three Devon and Cornwall journalists cover council meetings and public services and share their stories with the BBC.

Getting to the heart of an issue should be straight forward. After all, we live in an age when it has never been easier to communicate and more data is published by independent and trustworthy sources like the Office for National Statistics than ever before. The Parliamentary website is a mine of free, impartial, expert and topical briefings.

Robust high quality journalism is important for public scrutiny and underpins democratic debate – but as print circulations decline and more readers move online, the press faces an uncertain future.

So I am pleased that the government has recently launched a review that will look at the sustainability of the national, regional and local press, how content creators are appropriately rewarded for their online creations, and ensure that the UK has a vibrant, independent and plural free press as one of the cornerstones of our public debate.

Transparency about MPs work in Parliament has helped improve public scrutiny. Given that there isn’t an equivalent to the Hansard Report of everything said and voted on in Parliament, we rely on journalists attending and reporting on local council meetings to shine a light on proceedings. Cornwall Council has large budgets and increasing influence about the future of local NHS services, house building and economic development, yet while some meetings are webcast and some papers published, it lacks transparency.

While the three additional BBC funded local journalists are a step in the right direction, I think more should be done and hope that the review will enable more high quality local journalism.

Finally, in response to a letter published in this newspaper last week, I thought you would appreciate this update on the facts. I had secured the commitment from NHS England to review the formula used to allocate funding not only to local NHS commissioning groups but also for treatments in hospital.

I have requested data from the leadership of the RCHT to make the case for how the formula needs to change for the benefit of patients in Cornwall.

Along with my Cornish MP colleagues we did secure a change in the formula that allocates funding to our local NHS Commissioners that sees Cornwall receiving more than the England average per person. I am determined to secure the further change necessary so the RCHT receives its fair share of funding.

First published in the West Briton 22/02/18

Helping the homeless in Cornwall

We cannot accept rough sleeping as a stubborn problem that will always be with us. That’s why we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting those who are homeless and rough sleeping and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.

Tackling homelessness is complex, but no one should ever have to sleep rough. I have spent most of my adult life volunteering with organisations supporting homeless people and very much support St Petroc’s campaign to end homelessness in Cornwall.

I am pleased that this newspaper has done so much to raise awareness of the challenges faced by homeless people. Local residents have kindly provided a huge amount of help.

Using the additional Government funding that I helped secure for Cornwall Council, work started last summer with multiple publicly funded agencies, charities and housing providers from across the county joining forces on the Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy, to help stop homelessness in the first place, help get rough sleepers into housing and provide support to keep rough sleepers off the streets permanently.

As a result of much improved team work there are fewer people rough sleeping in Cornwall than last year. Out of all of the local authority areas in the country, Cornwall showed the biggest reduction in rough sleepers. In November 2016 there were reported to be 99 people sleeping on the streets and by November 2017 that figure had been cut to 68.

There is still so much more that needs to be done. I am pleased that leading experts from homelessness charities, housing and local government met for the first time last week as part of the government’s new rough sleeping advisory panel and committed to work together to help eliminate rough sleeping within a decade.

The new panel chaired by Homelessness Minister, Heather Wheeler, will help develop the national rough sleeping strategy to halve rough sleeping over the course of the Parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027.

Made up of experts, charities and local government, including from Cornwall Housing, the panel will draw on their considerable experience and individual successes to support the Ministerial Taskforce. This will bring together ministers from key departments to provide a cross-government approach to preventing rough sleeping and homelessness.

The government’s determined, more holistic and joined up approach, as well as new investment is making a positive difference that will end this stubborn problem.

First published in the West Briton 08/02/18

Encouraging businesses to employ disabled people

As the trend towards the lowest unemployment in over 40 years continues, it’s important that employers in every sector benefit from recruiting from a wide talent pool.

We know that the retail sector employs over 5 million people in the UK, and this represents a significant opportunity for a range of retail businesses to take meaningful action to increase disability employment, while making the most of the skills and talents disabled people can bring to the workplace.

Disability Confident is about getting employers of all sizes to think differently about disability and to take action to attract, recruit and retain disabled workers, giving businesses the confidence to ensure disabled people will have the support they need to thrive in the workplace.

Of course, each sector faces different challenges and has different needs, and that’s why we’re launching a retail specific campaign to encourage employers in this sector to join more than 5,500 other employers nationwide in sending a powerful message to potential employees.

Retailers of all sizes can gain valuable insight from their disabled employees to improve the customer experience. Employing more disabled people isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense.

Retailers by nature serve a diverse customer base, so it’s important that patrons see this diversity reflected to them in the staff who serve them.

Top supermarket Sainsbury’s is one of our Disability Confident Leaders, and they are encouraging others to sign up to the scheme to promote an inclusive culture.

Andrew works for Sainsbury’s in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire and has a mental health condition. He appreciates working in an environment where disclosing his disability has been welcomed.

What worked for Andrew was the culture of openness that the chain encourages, where at previous workplaces stress was an accepted part of the job.

As an employer, make sure you have a clear signposting process to make it easy for people like Andrew to reach out, or simply start a conversation.

Our retail Sector Champion, Helen Drury, was appointed alongside champions across a range of industries to support the rights of disabled consumers. She has been working with us over the past year to show other businesses the merit of making disabled customers a priority.

I want this retail campaign to build on this great work and mark a turning point in how the sector caters for disabled employees and those with mental health conditions, so that retailers can benefit from this huge untapped pool of talent.

Find out how your business can sign up to the scheme and join the campaign, or share your experiences of disability confidence below. I’d love to hear your stories.

For more information on Disability Confident, visit: