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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

A scholar speaks: Dr Jen Perry

What is the RCPsych Parliamentary Scholars Scheme?

Since 2012, Baroness Hollins, ex-President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a Professor of Learning Disabilities Psychiatry, has taken on a Learning Disabilities trainee for a special interest session to work with her as a parliamentary researcher in the House of Lords.

This is the first year the scheme has been opened to trainees in all psychiatric sub-specialities.

Dr Jen Perry is one of the five speciality trainees who spend one day a week treading the floors of Westminster. Each of them is attached to a different peer from across the political spectrum; Conservative, Labour and Cross-Bench.

 

About Jen

Jen is an ST6 in general adult psychiatry working at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

She is attached to Lord Brooke of Alvethorpe for a year. Lord Brooke is a labour peer who was appointed by Tony Blair. His main area of interest is substance misuse, with a focus on public health and its links with mental illness. His work campaigning on alcohol was recognised at the UK Alcohol Health Alliance’s 10 year celebration last month where he won the ‘Peer of the Decade’ award.

Here are the highlights of what she’s done and learnt so far...

 

Parliamentary Questions

One of my roles is to provide briefings for Lord Brooke on topics for written/oral questions which are posed to the Minister for Health in the Lords (Lord O’Shaughnessy). Here are some examples;

We tabled some questions on the Mental Health Act (MHA) Review. We asked what steps were being taken to ensure that patients get help early before reaching the point of detention and also what assessment had been made of the decrease in inpatient psychiatric beds and any relationship this might have to the increase in the use of the MHA.

Lord O’Shaughnessy said that the Government recognised ‘that improved community mental health services’ were needed and outlined additional funding for crisis teams and A&E departments. He said there would be ‘consideration of why rates of detention are increasing, and what can be done to reduce inappropriate detentions’ but he did not comment on any potential relationship between beds and detention rates..... We will be doing a piece of work on the MHA review as a group of scholars.

We asked an oral question on the impact of Brexit on mental health research. The Government has pledged to underwrite bids as part of Horizon 2020. Questions also highlighted the disparity between UK mental health and physical health research funding and the impact of Brexit on the research community.

CAMHS has been a topical issue in parliament and we asked about variation in CAMHS services across the country as highlighted in the recent CQC report.

 

Debates

I’ve also had the opportunity to support Lord Brooke in drafting a speech for a debate on access to mental health services for BME groups. The speech highlighted some of the inequalities evidenced in the government’s race audit.

It focused on the need for a public health approach and asked the Government how it would ensure the implementation of the recommendation from the JCPMH guide which states that ‘targeted investment in public mental health interventions for BME communities’ is required. We also asked about progress on the Race Equality Standard which was ​recommended in the Crisp report.

 

Other experiences

My days in the HOL are generally quite varied. Lord Brooke’s main interest is alcohol misuse and so I have been to the several events on this issue including; the launch of the Lancet commission report, on the financial costs of alcohol, and the Drink Wise Age Well report which highlights age discrimination in alcohol services/policy.

Most days I will go to a Select Committee/APPG meeting which are good opportunities to learn about policy. For example, in October I attended the Health Select Committee which took evidence from the authors of an excellent report on The Long-term Sustainability of the NHS and Adult Social Care.

At the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee in November, Martin Mckee gave evidence on the complexities of organising reciprocal healthcare agreements following Brexit. I also attended a meeting of the APPG on Mindfulness which received coverage in the press as a result of the MP who spends an hour in the bath each day!

 

Overall impressions

All in all I absolutely love working in the House Of Lords! I’ve learnt a lot about how parliament works and how to influence policy.

I will sum up this blog with my initial observations….

  1. Sometimes the questions don’t get answered in a very direct way at all, but the process of asking the question is a way of putting pressure on the Government- they let them know you’re on their case!

  2. Although the Lords can appear a bit intimidating, most of the people who work there are actually really friendly.

  3. Brexit features everywhere!

 

More from the Parliamentary scholars

Each Parliamentary scholar is writing a blog for the eNewsletter.

If you enjoyed hearing about Jen’s experiences, you can catch up with the others in forthcoming eNewsletters.

 

 

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