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21/05/21 – The Queen’s Speech Debate

By Helen Clark: Director, Child Mental Health Charter Campaign 

The Queen’s Speech on 11th May 2021 was immediately succeeded by a week of debate on the items contained within it. In terms of mental health, MPs had the opportunity to either raise the issue in the general debate on 11th May itself, or on the specific day of the debate on health on Wednesday 19th May. 

Included in his contribution on 11th May, Sir David Amess (Con) chose to concentrate on the need for the Government to set an immediate timetable for the long anticipated reform of the Mental Health Act: 

‘I am really pleased that the Government have committed to ‘support the health and wellbeing of the nation,’ particularly with regard to mental health. I hope that they will soon share a draft Mental Health Bill that ensures that users’ views and choices are respected. I am pleased that there is an emphasis on early detection and coping strategies and I was very pleased that the Gracious Speech in 2019 included a promise to reform the Mental Health Act 1983 – let’s get on with it.’ 

On Wednesday 19th May 2021 in the debate on health, Secretary of State or Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock responded to Sir David by stating that draft legislation would be introduced to the House in the current sitting session followed by the presentation of a Bill for discussion, amendment and debate during the nest session: 

‘So that we ensure it is legislated for during this Parliament.’ 

On 19th May, contributions emphasising the need for a new Mental Health Act included those of Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Lab) Dr Ben Spencer (Con) a former NHS consultant psychiatrist and Darren Henry (Con) who had previously raised the mental health crisis in his constituency as a direct result of the pandemic in a oral Question to the Prime Minister. Dean Russell (Con) who made his contribution on 11th May also said that mental health and wellbeing ‘have been an absolute focus in my constituency over the past few years.’ 

Dr Lisa Cameron (SNP) herself a psychologist and in concert with the Royal College of Psychiatrists called for: 

‘Parity of esteem for mental health services. In December 2020, there was an 11% increase in referrals, and the UK household longitudinal study found that during the peak of covid, average mental distress was 8.1% higher than normal levels, so we cannot underestimate the potential tsunami of mental health issues that will require to be treated as a consequence of this pandemic.’ 

Dr Cameron also made specific and pointed reference to the need for mental health services not ‘being sidelined yet again’ and in specific reference to the needs of children said: 

‘Our children have coped in their young lifetimes with one of the biggest adjustments and crises we have ever seen. We must be cognisant of their resilience but also the impact, because they have been dealing with a killer disease that they know can take away their loved ones and have had their educational and social lives turned upside down. Ensuring that the mental health concerns of children are identified, referred and treated is of paramount importance. The Royal College of Psychiatrists found that 1.5 million children are predicted to need new or extra mental health support as a result of the pandemic.’