Norman Lamb writes… Working together for better mental health crisis care

When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, it essential that they feel able to access the help they need – and quickly. They will probably be in a state of extreme distress and confusion. Without help, people may be at risk of causing harm to themselves and those around them (cases of injury to others are actually very rare). They often end up in police cells – completely inappropriately. They may even commit suicide – and all too often, I hear tragic cases of suicide after someone has repeatedly been unable to access mental health crisis support.

This isn’t just an issue for the NHS. Often people in mental health crisis will initially come into contact with the police, or other public services. It is essential that, however or wherever people in need of urgent support are discovered, there is an effective and consistent response. I want to build a fairer society in which people with acute mental health problems are given te medical support they need – not locked up in police custody.

Earlier this week, I announced (in conjunction with my colleague at the Home Office) a Concordat for Crisis Mental Health Care. More than twenty national organisations have signed up to the Concordat – including the Association of Chief Police Officers. As a Liberal Democrat, I want to see better care across our health and care system. The Concordat sets out the standards of care people should expect if they suffer a mental health crisis, specifying how emergency services ought to respond. Full details of the document are available here.

A key part of this plan is information sharing. Only this morning, I learned about a constituency case in which someone was arrested by the police after experiencing a very serious mental health crisis – and the police did not discover that they had mental health problems, and did not make an appropriate referral until their relatives got in touch hours later. The Concordat sets out an expectation that services will share essential “need to know” information to help deliver better, more personalised care.

The Concordat also sets out timescales for responding to mental health crisis – so, for example, police officers know how long they will have to wait for a response from health and care workers. And we are challenging local areas to make sure that there are adequate health-based “places of safety” in every part of the country, as well as crisis mental health beds for when they are needed. I will continue to push over the coming weeks to ensure that local health commissioners reflect their obligation to promote equality for mental health in the way they set next year’s budgets.

At its heart, today’s announcement is about ensuring parity of esteem – equality – for mental health. When someone suffers from a physical health crisis, there is a clear expectation that Accident and Emergency wards, Ambulance Services, and other organisations will be available to respond and that effective care will be provided. But with mental health conditions, all too often that simply isn’t the case. I am absolutely determined that there must be effective crisis mental health support available when it is needed. The Concordat represents a shared commitment across our public services to address that imbalance, and ensure better care across the system to make a very real and positive difference to people’s lives.

* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015