New Forest East



Dr Lewis: Can the Minister tell us in simple terms what the situation is regarding the continuation or discontinuation of mixed-sex wards in mental health acute units?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Jackie Doyle-Price): On mixed-sex wards specifically, I cannot tell my right hon. Friend what the proportion is, but we are ensuring that the guidance on sexual safety on mental health wards is being rolled out. I will write to him specifically on that, if he will indulge me.

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Jackie Doyle-Price: ... It is important to talk about the role of family, because we have agreed that patients should be able to identify a nominated person who will have the power to look after their interests under the Act. At the moment, the next of kin is the default. I have heard compelling evidence from patients who have said that that is not always appropriate. Family members can often be a source of abuse or additional pressure and harm, so patients want to be able to nominate someone, which seems extremely sensible. I recognise that that will cause some controversy.

Dr Lewis: The Minister says that that seems extremely sensible but if, for example, somebody is seriously mentally ill and imagines that their parents mean them harm when they are actually doing everything they can in support, should the parents be locked out from knowing what is happening to their child?

Jackie Doyle-Price: We will have to have that debate. My right hon. Friend articulates the opposing position to what I have heard. I regularly hear his example when I chair the national suicide prevention panel. We have had dialogue with NHS organisations and there is a consensus statement setting out the framework by which reports can be given to family members. Equally, patients who are detained under the Act should be able to say which family members should not be consulted about their treatment. For example, we see women who are victims of domestic violence and abuse by their partner and find themselves detained under the Act; their partner would normally be their next of kin, but it would not do those women any good for that person to be contacted.

Dr Lewis: I quite agree, but my debate was nearly nine years ago. Is it not a bit late in the day for the Government to say, “Well, we are having a conversation about this?” At the time, there seemed to be some quite sensible rules, but the main problem was that the local mental health authorities were not applying them. If anything, it seems that we are further away from our objectives than we were nine years ago.

Jackie Doyle-Price: I think my right hon. Friend misunderstands me. We have a consensus statement that governs how NHS organisations and practitioners should deal with people at risk of suicidality, although there is concern among bereaved families that it is not always followed. Equally, in delivering a service that empowers patients, those patients should be able to identify their nominated person. Those discussions take place much more frequently when people set up new relationships with NHS practitioners. When they change GP, for example, they are invited to nominate a person, in case there are any safeguarding issues.

Dr Lewis: I hesitate to intervene one last time. I fully accept the Minister’s point about abusive partners, but what if the person is desperately, seriously ill and delusional, and the mother is not allowed to be told information about their offspring, because they are technically an adult? At what point do you decide that the person has lost capacity to identify correctly with whom information should or should not be shared?

Jackie Doyle-Price: That highlights the importance of having a nominated person earlier in the journey. I do not disagree with my right hon. Friend, but he highlights the difficulty of our work to get the balance right between keeping someone safe and respecting their wishes. I fully anticipate that when we produce the White Paper on this issue, he and I will probably have another debate about it. It is important that we get it right, with the safety of the patient in mind while empowering them to make their own decisions. ...

[For Julian's speech in this debate click here.]