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Mental health care provision could be miles better now the Health Bill’s passed

You might be asking why a Member of Parliament is writing about mental health in a magazine aimed at GPs.  What could she possibly add to a doctor's knowledge about health care and, in particular, health commissioning?

As a constituency representative I deal with the needs of mental health service users and their families in many guises – for example, those unhappy with their care, those who want to set up new support services, those who are having difficulty with issues such as benefits, employment or housing.

Often constituents ask me for help with one issue – homelessness, debt or dealing with the Job Centre – but it becomes all too apparent that there is a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health condition present too.

I am also elected to represent my constituents in Westminster, and the only way to make any impression in Parliament is to pick a few key issues or policy areas to focus on. 

Before I was elected I said one of my key issues would be mental health.  I recognise the work the Government has done to publish its mental health strategy and the area is featured prominently in the NHS operating framework.

So I was pleased to become a vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health and, for about ten weeks in 2011, I was a member of the Public Bill Committee scrutinising the Health and Social Care Bill.

For me, as an MP, I find the pathways for mental health care very unclear.  If I am worried about a constituent's mental health who should I call – their GP? Psychiatrist? Social worker? Family? 

What I have noticed in discussions about the Health and Social Care Bill is how involved mental health patients want to be in decisions about the commissioning of their services. 

As someone giving evidence at last week's All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health said, ‘In all the discussions about the Bill the voice of the service users and patients seems to have been least-heard'.  I know there are patients who are very keen to organise an event so that their views on what is needed in terms of commissioning and working with the medical profession can be heard.

The Bill provides a real opportunity for patients to become members of their clinical commissioning group boards, and to play a part in Healthwatch, and the local health and wellbeing boards. 

There is also a huge opportunity, which I have discussed with the mental health lead of my local CCG, for the voluntary and community sector to be part of the commissioning landscape.  I hope GPs will take this opportunity up.  Indeed I think there is huge potential for GP-led commissioning to really drive change in this and other directions within the new operating structure.

I am working with Rethink Mental Illness to organise a roundtable discussion in my constituency to involve GPs, public health, the police, secondary care, local authorities, the voluntary and community sector and patients, about how all parts of the mental health system can work together to provide a clear pathway for care and how we can make it much more apparent for anyone needing to access services, either for themselves or someone they are concerned about, where they should go for help.

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Nicky Morgan is the MP for Loughborough and is vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health