CONSTITUENCY ISSUES: STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH – 16 December 2009

Dr Julian Lewis: I had not intended to begin by saying anything about the Royal Navy, but the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mike Hancock) raised the subject and kindly let me intervene, so I shall just say that the Government can be criticised about plenty of things in connection with the Royal Navy, such as the reduction in the number of frigates and destroyers. That number has been reduced from 35 to 23 and, by some counts, to as few as 19. In addition, the number of nuclear-powered attack submarines has been cut from 12 to seven.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South referred to the date when the carriers will come into service, but it was revealed only yesterday that that was postponed to enable a temporary saving of some £600 million, but that the cost of the postponement will be £1.1 billion later on. It is a dire situation indeed, but I think that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman, his constituents and supporters of the Royal Navy. After the next general election – when, as I trust, there will be a change of government – I shall be very surprised indeed to find that the contracts for the carriers have not been drawn up with sufficient rigour and comprehensiveness to ensure that the classic strategic argument that always convinces a Treasury team that a vital military asset must be bought, will come into play. That argument is, of course, that it would cost more to cancel the carriers than it would to proceed with them.

Mr Hancock indicated assent.

Dr Lewis: I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman is nodding. He is right to make criticisms, but he should not fly the kite of suggesting that the carriers will not happen. I shall be amazed if the carriers do not happen, whatever else we have reason to criticise this Government for in respect of the Royal Navy.

At Christmas-time, we think about the people whom we have lost. We think also about the people whom other people have lost, and in particular of the Service personnel who have been lost this year. I think in particular of Olaf Schmid, and I wait with interest to see what posthumous gallantry award he will be given – it should come sooner rather than later – for the magnificent bomb disposal work that he did. The courage and dignity shown by his widow Christina were an example to us all. It is an example that none us would probably be able to follow if, heaven forbid, we were placed in such a situation, but it is one that we as a House can admire and acknowledge, and of which we can stand in awe.

I think of two people whom I have lost in the course of the past year. One was my Cold War comrade and friend George Miller – or George Miller-Kurakin, to give him his full inherited name. He died on 23 October, aged just 54. I am grateful to the Obituaries Editor of the Independent, who gave him pride of place with a half-page obituary that I had written, spelling out some of the work that George did to help NATO remain strong while he waited for Russia – his country of descent, shall we say? – to see the back of Communism. He was an inspirational figure, and I was glad also that the Daily Telegraph similarly accorded him a half-page tribute written by Harry Phibbs, who was part of George’s network of couriers, who also did so much to keep the flame of freedom alive in Russia. George died too young, but among those who knew him and among those who have a dim perception of some of the work that went on below the surface to undermine Soviet Communism, he will be honoured as a hero.

The other person whom I lost was my father, Samuel Lewis, who died at exactly this time last year. He died on 16 December at the great age of 95. On the day he died, I spoke in a debate, because I had undertaken to do so, and I am glad to find myself speaking again on the first anniversary of his passing. The best tribute that I can give to a man who worked as a tailor for 71 years and who, like my friend George Miller, never earned any real money, is to go on doing the work that I know he was proud to see me engaged in.

I well remember being sworn in to serve in the House in 1997. My father was 84 and sitting in the Gallery. I mentioned that to Speaker Boothroyd. She said to me:

"Well, I think we’ll make an exception. Normally we are not supposed to pay any attention to anyone outside the boundaries of the Chamber, but as this is a special occasion, let’s give him a wave."

So Speaker Boothroyd and I made that little gesture to my Dad, and I know he was very touched and satisfied by it.

Both George and Sam – George with his too short life and Sam with his very long life – had one great benefit: almost till the end, they kept full command of their faculties. My father’s short-term memory was shot, but right up until the day he died, he was still very much himself. What I want to talk about in this short contribution to the debate is what happens when one’s faculties and one’s personality are affected by illness – mental illness – at too early an age.

I have spoken in Adjournment debates and in Westminster Hall debates recently about the activities of the Hampshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in respect of the supposedly temporary closure of the psychiatric intensive care unit at Woodhaven Hospital in my constituency. It is called Ellingham Ward and it provides a vital service. It has been "temporarily" closed and a specialist team has been dispersed. I intend to continue in the months and, hopefully, years ahead, if the General Election gives me another mandate to do so, to campaign and fight to make sure that that ward is not lost.

As a result of that campaign, I have been contacted by people who were involved in another specialist unit, known as the Student Mental Health Team. It was operated by the Southampton City Primary Care Trust for the benefit of students in Southampton and Solent Universities. Those include a number of my constituents. In a nutshell, that specialist team was set up in 1997 and did valuable work saving young lives for a decade, but after those 10 years it was decided by the Southampton City PCT and the Hampshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides the adult mental health services for the whole of our area, that it would be better to transfer the team from the one to the other. It was alleged and assured at the time that nothing really would change. However, not long after the transfer, we find that the team has been dismantled and its personnel have been, for the most part, made redundant. The students have lost an important service and a lifeline.

The point about the Student Mental Health Team is that students went to see them as a secondary care service. In other words, the students were pretty ill – in danger of overdosing or doing other things that might lead to suicide. As one member of the team said, they dealt with complex, serious stuff: students with bipolar syndrome or manic depression, psychosis – students in crisis. There were five therapists plus an administrator.

The measure of the seriousness of the team’s work comes from the document that the Southampton City Primary Care Trust and the Hampshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust produced when the service was transferred from one to the other. The document stated:

"The Student Mental Health Service is a very dynamic and experienced team who undertake complex and specialised clinical work. The team consist of highly skilled practitioners… Since its inception the student mental health service has seen a significant growth in the number of students seen with severe and enduring mental health problems including personality disorders, psychosis, bipolar disorder, OCD" –

obsessive compulsive disorder –

"eating disorders, self-injurious behaviours and" –

I cannot stress these words too much –

"high risk cases including clients with active suicidal behaviours".

The document continued, stating that

"this is a good time for the Student Mental Health Service to move to the Hampshire Partnership Trust as provider of the service. It will enable the integration of the Student Mental Health Service as a discrete specialist service" –

a separate specialist service –

"within the totality of the Mental Health Provision in Southampton".

As a result of that, the document also referred to the people who are seen as those who suffer from

"severe and complex Mental Health problems".

All that makes it absolutely clear that the service was for young people who were seriously ill. However, I have, as always, given the Hampshire Partnership trust an opportunity to explain why it has done what it has done, and Mr Nick Yeo, the head of the trust, said that it was

"part of a new development"

to set up a scheme called IAPT, or improving access to psychological therapies. IAPT, the letter states,

"is a therapy based service aimed at providing for the adult population, including students of Southampton … covering steps 2/3 of the stepped care approach",

which I will explain in a moment. Mr Yeo went on to say that the service was put out to tender, Dorset Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust won and it is now a matter for that organisation. The trouble with all that, however, is that the student service never was a step 3 service. A step 3 service is for people with moderate to mild mental health problems, but the student service was at least a step 4 service, which is for moderate to severe and complex mental health problems where serious interventions are necessary and there is a serious risk to life.

The service was transferred from one provider to another and eventually ended up with the Dorset Trust, which supplies the new service called IAPT. However, IAPT, as it has been explained to me, is only a primary care service for people with basic anxiety and depression; it is not geared for complex and serious cases. The students will therefore have to take their chance with the ordinary Community Mental Health Care Teams who go out in general for people with severe problems in society; there will be no specialist treatment for students whatever. The trouble is that that service, which is not supplied by the Dorset Trust but continues to be supplied by the Hampshire Trust, is already bursting at the seams. Yet all the students who used to go to the student service were people who were so ill that it is beyond doubt that they would never have been accepted for the IAPT service that has now been transferred to Dorset.

In effect, what has happened is the destruction of a specialised service for seriously ill young people in the Southampton area. At the time when the service was set up, it was said that it was intended for severely ill people. It has been transferred out of existence by being merged with a service that is not for severely mentally ill people, with the result that four of the five therapists have been made redundant. The effect of that is disastrous. Those who self-harm, those who are suicidal, and those who suffer from enduring mental health problems will not get a service. It has been closure by the back door; nobody has noticed it or understood it because it has been a process of institutional manoeuvring and covert destruction.

I am sorry to have brought up such a grim subject at what should be a happy time of the year, but I hope that by my doing so the media in the Southampton area will take an interest and young lives will be saved that would otherwise be lost.