MP Norman Lamb reveals struggle to get NHS mental health care for his son

Former care minister Norman Lamb has revealed his son was told he would have to wait six months to get mental health treatment on the NHS after he was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Norman Lamb spoke of his son’s struggle for mental health care


The Lib Dem said his son Archie, a music producer now in his late 20s, was left feeling like he was “going mad” after he spent several years struggling to cope with his illness as a teenager alone.

Mr Lamb said that was “desperate” and faced with the “horribly long” wait they paid for private treatment, but many less well-off families are left without life changing care and support.

His comments come a day after Theresa May announced a package of reforms to tackle the “stigma” around mental illness, with extra training offered in schools and a review of workplace practices.

Leading a Westminster Hall debate about children’s mental health services, Mr Lamb said: “W hen our oldest son required treatment, and as a family we were fairly desperate, and we were told we would have to wait six months for him to start treatment, we did what I guess any family would do – we paid for treatment.

“But of course very many people can’t do that. And I don’t want to live in a country where those people who have money can get access to great care, but those people who don’t have the money are left waiting.

“And that’s the injustice for me that I think we have to confront.”

A “profound and pervasive” stigma still surrounds mental health problems and puts many people off getting help, Mr Lamb warned.

He said: “I can remember the moment when our eldest son said to me ‘Why am I the only person who is going mad?’

“And you just thought here’s a teenager feeling that and having stored it up inside himself having not been able to talk about it for a long time. You just imagine what the strain is on a teenager trying to cope with all the normal pressures of a teenager, and coping with all of that on top.

“I just think we have to do far more to combat stigma if we are to improve the experience of young people.”

Mr Lamb said Mrs May had raised an “incredibly important issue” of mental health, but said her stirring rhetoric has not been matched by action and urged her to launch a Prime Minister’s challenge on mental health, similar to David Cameron’s challenge on dementia.

He also hit out at the “theft” of many millions of pounds earmarked for children’s mental health care which is instead being spent on plugging the A&E crisis.

Half of the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) areas are failing to spend all the extra investment intended for children’s mental health services, he told MPs.

“That for me is scandalous”, Mr Lamb said. “It amounts to theft of money solemnly pledged by the Government for children’s mental health, and yet it is in many areas being diverted to prop up the local acute hospital.

“We can’t tolerate that. And the Government, it seems to me, has to find ways of ensuring that all of that money is spent as intended.”

He added: “Where the CCG is under financial stress it is just too easy to shave a little bit off children’s mental health to spend it where the public are clamouring for action because there are ambulances stacked up outside the A&E department.”

Underfunding has resulted in a “dysfunctional and irrational” system which leaves young people waiting many months for help, or turned away unless they are suffering an acute crisis, MPs heard.

Mr Lamb said: “When you have a child aged 15… a girl who had an eating disorder who was turned away from treatment because her BMI wasn’t low enough, and then she gets admitted as a crisis case two months later because the problem has been neglected, you are left in a state of despair.

“We need to ensure that children with mental health problems have the same rights to timely treatment, treatment which is evidence based, as anyone with a physical health problem.”

Labour mental health spokeswoman Barbara Keeley said she welcomes the Prime Minister’s intervention, but to tackle the “burning injustice” it takes more than teacher training and called for statutory and high quality personal social and health education.

She also criticised the practice of children being sent for treatment hundreds of miles away from their home, warning this fuels their sense of isolation, and called for statutory PSHE lessons and a counsellor in every school.

Health minister Nicola Blackwood said there is a “compelling moral as well as social and economic case for change” and the Government is committed to improving care.

She said: “We know if we can get our children and young people the help and support that they need early on, when the problems first arise, then we can make sure that these problems do not become entrenched.

“And that is why the Prime Minister was clear in her determination to improve mental health services and tackle the burning injustice that those with mental ill health have a shorter life expectancy than those without.”

She said the Government will continue to implement the ‘Future in mind’ project to improve mental health services.

The health department is conducting a schools survey to discover what the best approaches to provision are and more data on mental health services is being collected nationally, the minister added.

Ms Blackwood admitted performance is patchy and some areas “still need to get the message” about why mental health services are so important.

The forthcoming green paper will put a focus on providing early and preventative services, while schools will be given support to improve the help they give, the minister added.

Ms Blackwood said the education department is looking again “at the case for further action on PSHE and sex education provision, with particular consideration to improving quality and accessibility”.






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