Norman Lamb's speech to Spring Conference 2015

March 16, 2015 1:03 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Before I begin my speech I just want to say a few words about a personal matter. Something you may have read about this morning.

My family has had our own experience of mental health problems as our son was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at the age of 15. It's something he has made the decision to be open about.

This has been a very painful time for our family. As a parent you just want to keep your children safe, to know they are going to be ok.

But my family is not unique. Our experience has made me even more determined to bring mental health out of the shadows and fight for better care for all of the families affected by it.

Can I also thank all of you for the kindness and support you have shown me this morning.

My driving purpose, my mission, as a Liberal Democrat, is the pursuit of freedom and opportunity, challenging discrimination, giving power to those who have no power, and never compromising over the denial of basic human rights.

Over the last two and a half years it has been an enormous - and unexpected - privilege to pursue that purpose in Government.

I have worked with some amazing people who fight, against the odds, for justice for their loved ones - such as those with learning disability, severe and enduring mental ill health, and autism.

People too often treated as second class citizens, too often let down by the system.

As Liberals, we cannot stand by in the face of failures of the system which too often condemn people to a miserable life. The mark of a civilised society is how it treats the most vulnerable people.

We have to challenge, to demand change and then to secure that change.

Our NHS is the envy of the world. And rightly so. The Commonwealth Fund last year concluded that it was the best system for equity and for quality.

As Liberal Democrats we will always champion the NHS and we will do what it takes to secure its future and the investment it needs.

But true friends of the NHS must also confront those areas where it falls short. That is the way we make it even better. That is the way we will maintain public confidence.

When I met Sara she told me the tragic story of her son Connor, who died in an assessment and treatment centre in Oxford.

An independent inquiry found that Connor's death could have been prevented. Staff had failed to use his parents' knowledge of his condition to make sure he was cared for safely. And not enough effort was made to understand Connor's needs as an individual.

His mother has, ever since, campaigned for change, for a positive legacy for Connor - or 'Laughing Boy' as he was known.

So we have worked with Sara and her campaign team. I felt it was my responsibility to listen to them, and to act.

But Connor's case sadly is not unique. Too often families have told me they felt completely ignored. That no one was listening.

As minister, I have made it my business to talk to families and patients, and to look myself at cases where the system has failed.

For years this has been going on, unchallenged and ignored. But now Liberal Democrats in government have said no more.

And so just over a week ago I published proposals in a Green Paper to fundamentally transfer power away from institutions and to people.

To give people the right to challenge a decision to place them in an institution.

To give people the right to a personal budget so that they and their families are in control.

To make certain that the Mental Health Act can't be used as an excuse to exclude families.

So we will end, once and for all, the scandal of people with learning disability, those with autism and with severe and enduring mental ill health having their fundamental rights ignored.

And we will change the law. This Green Paper paves the way for a "Connor's Law" in the next Parliament.

Kat Cormack talked movingly about what it was like to be put in a police cell as a teenager as a result of a mental health crisis.

The sense of shame - the first person from her family ever to experience that. But she was ill! Not a criminal. How can we do this?

It was stories like this that led me to propose setting standards in mental health crisis care for the first time. There is a moral imperative for change.

So last year we published the Crisis Care Concordat. The Concordat is clear that no under 18 year old should be placed in a police cell because of a mental health crisis. This year the numbers are down by nearly a third.

We set the objective of cutting the numbers of adults in police cells by 50% in two years. And we are nearly there.

The Concordat has initiated brilliant collaboration across England between police and mental health services.

Mental health nurses working with the police: making much better use of resources, but crucially delivering far better care.

Now we must go one step further and ban police cells for under 18s completely.

Liberal Democrats will do just that. And it will be in our Manifesto.

The treatment of eating disorders is another area where too often families and teenagers are let down. And always have been.

There was a girl in my constituency, Charlotte Robinson. She was 17, clever, hard-working, well-liked, a life full of opportunities ahead of her. She planned to study at Cambridge when she left school.

As she was working towards her A-levels she started to suffer from an eating disorder. Her family asked for help. Then they waited. And waited. And waited.

In the summer after she had finished her exams, she was admitted to hospital. Charlotte was dangerously ill, and a few days later she died.

The next day, her A-level results arrived. Straight As.

This would not happen with suspected cancer. Eating disorders can kill. Too often, they do kill. And here in Britain they affect 1.6 million people a year.

Nick Clegg has now secured £150m over the next five years to make sure that every area has high quality eating disorder services.

You can imagine just what this means to so many families.

We also plan to introduce a maximum waiting time to access treatment in 2016 - just as we have done for early intervention in psychosis.

Children and young people's mental health services are in desperate need of modernisation.

Access is poor. Brilliant people working in these services are let down by fragmented commissioning and under-investment. And there's not nearly enough focus on intervening early, preventing a deterioration of health.

So last summer, I set up a task force to come up with proposals for change.

Crucially, we have listened to the views of young people about what they want.

On Tuesday, we will publish the final report, setting out a blue print for the future of young people's mental health services.

And thanks to Liberal Democrats in government we now have the money to achieve this.

The Deputy Prime Minister has announced that we will invest over a billion pounds over the next five years in making this change a reality.

In all these cases, the common theme is of people - young and old - very disadvantaged people - being denied their basic rights, being disadvantaged by the system, unable to flourish as individuals, denied opportunity, unable to enjoy a good life, like the rest of us take for granted. These are the people that as Liberal Democrats we must fight for.

We are all campaigners. We take that into government. We will always stand up for people. We won't cover up poor care or discrimination.

We demand change and we have delivered change.

In this Parliament, access to talking therapies has massively increased. New investment means 2.6 million more people have received talking therapies during this Parliament. And this has happened because of Liberal Democrats in Government.

A world leading new service to divert people with mental ill-health away from the criminal justice system - being rolled out across the country. Because of Liberal Democrats in Government.

And the first ever waiting time standards in mental health from April this year, ending the outrageous exclusion of those suffering mental ill health from the right to get treatment quickly. With a commitment to apply these standards across mental health over the next 5 years. Because of Liberal Democrats in Government.

The moral case for change is overwhelming. But also the economic case.

There's a wealth of evidence that investing in mental health, treating those with learning disability or with autism with dignity, respecting their rights, actually gives you a return on your investment.

Liberal Democrats will invest £500m each year in mental health.

And we will commit to meeting the funding shortfall of £8bn in the NHS by 2020.

No other party has done that.

The public does not want the NHS to be used as a political football.

Today I am renewing my call for all parties to come together and agree how we can protect health and care for the future, whoever is in government.

All parties need to work together for the good of our NHS. That's not too much to ask.

Liberal Democrats - As we head towards the election campaign, we must hold our heads high. We should be proud of what we have done in government.

Fighting for equality for those suffering mental ill health;

Giving opportunity to children from the poorest backgrounds with the pupil premium;

Taking the poorest out of income tax altogether.

So much reforming zeal in this Parliament has come from the Liberal Democrats.

Still a long way to go.

Still more to do to make our country fairer for our children and grand-children.

Once again Liberal Democrats will put the national interest first and ensure that Britain continues on the path to a stronger economy and, crucially, a fairer society.