§ 3. Mr. Miller
To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met the chairmen of health authorities to discuss services for mentally ill people. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Simon Burns)
I meet chairmen of health authorities whenever issues of mutual interest need to be discussed.
§ Mr. Miller
Will the Minister comment on the report published today by the King's Fund commission? Does 727 he agree that it shows that, after 18 years of Conservative rule, London does not have a comprehensive mental health strategy? In the light of that report, will he also look carefully at the proposed mergers of NHS trusts such as the West Cheshire and Wirral Community Healthcare NHS trusts in my constituency, and ensure that any mergers are approved only on the basis of patient care and need, not managerial convenience?
§ Mr. Burns
The King's Fund report, published today, is important in that it coincides with much of the work that we have done at the Department of Health on the provision of mental health services in London. No one could disagree that those services are under pressure. Unfortunately, since the creation of the NHS, both inside and outside the medical profession, mental health care has been the Cinderella service. That has been tackled over the past five years with significant increases in funding and targeted funding to deal with particular issues.
The important issue that the report highlights—weighted capitation funding—has already been decided on by the Government; we have changed the system and implemented the proposal so as to improve comprehensive community services. In that respect we are one step ahead of the report.
As for the hon. Gentleman's constituency point, the merger is subject to consultation, and a decision will be taken in due course. I know that he would not expect me to comment at this stage.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a gap in the services for mentally ill young people, and that the services offered for children and adults, many of the latter elderly, are not appropriate for this age group? Will he give support to voluntary groups, such as VISYON in Congleton, which seek to highlight the problem and to support mentally ill young people and their families?
§ Mr. Burns
A great deal of work is going on with regard to young people and adolescents because of the problems that have arisen. One such problem is that, because of the age of that group, they have never been used to institutional care. As part of the programme of improving and developing a comprehensive mental health service, we have in place the children's and adolescent mental health programme. We are well aware of the problems facing that target group. More must be done in the area because, as I said earlier, in the past—since the creation of the health service—it has not had the same priority as, say, accident and emergency services. We welcome all input to improve and enhance the provision of care, from the voluntary sector as well as within the health service.
§ Ms Coffey
As today's King's Fund report on mental health in London clearly shows that services in the inner city are in a state of near collapse, will the Minister explain the huge gap between his recent reassurances and the reality outlined in the report? Is he now finally prepared to accept that that Cinderella service is not providing care in the community for mentally ill people and their families or proper protection for the public in London or elsewhere?
§ Mr. Burns
No, I do not accept that analysis. The hon. Lady is well aware that record sums of money are being 728 put into mental health care. For example, the mental health challenge fund, the mental illness specific grant and the £5 million emergency pressures fund are targeted where help is most needed. In addition, because by definition the problem is greater in London—because more people suffer from mental illness there—London receives a significant proportion of the available funding. It is important to build on everything that has been done to create a comprehensive and effective service that provides proper patient care. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced last February a programme to ensure that health authorities draw up plans for a comprehensive community service for mental health. That is going ahead and being monitored. We shall continue to do that to ensure that we catch up and get the best service possible. That is how we should move forward, rather than carping and criticising at the margins.
§ Sir Roger Sims
Services for mentally ill people include not only medical provision in hospital but the provision of adequate housing accommodation when patients are ready to leave hospital so that they do not block beds. May I suggest that my hon. Friend urges the chairmen of health authorities to work closely with local housing associations to ensure that appropriate housing is provided? May I also suggest that he discusses with his colleagues in the Department of the Environment the fact that they, too, should urge housing associations to make such provision and ensure that housing associations have the resources to do so?
§ Mr. Burns
I hope that my hon. Friend is reassured that he has identified two important areas that are already at the crux of Government policy. We encourage housing authorities, housing associations, social services and health authorities to work together so that there is a multidisciplinary approach. That is the best way to cut through the problems and reach a solution as quickly as possible. Another area where the Government are doing a great deal of interrelated work is on drug and alcohol abuse, which is a contributory factor in much mental illness.