All too many of us encounter mental health issues at some stage of our lives, whether ourselves, our families or our friends.
Last Friday I met local and national representatives from the mental health charity MIND, to discuss their work supporting some 5,000 people a year with mental health conditions across Shropshire.
The voluntary sector has long played a vital role in supporting mental health services, as although South Staffs and Shropshire Mental Health Trust is rated by the CQC as one of the best in the country, there is always clear pressure on services. So I welcome and support the role Shropshire MIND play in our community.
Encouragingly, mental health today receives far greater recognition than in previous generations. It was telling that this issue was highlighted by Theresa May in her very first speech as Prime Minister, on the steps of Number 10, and her first announcement this year – improving mental health outcomes is a personal priority for her.
My boss Jeremy Hunt and the NHS share this commitment, last year announcing an extra £1bn of funding every year by 2020, to increase the number of people completing talking therapies by two thirds, and helping 20,000 more people to find or stay in work through individual placement support. More funding is also being provided for children and young people's mental health. Work is being done to reduce the growing self-harm and suicide amongst young men.
In Shropshire, locally the closure of Whitcliffe Ward in Ludlow Hospital in 2008, due to financial pressures under the previous government, was deeply disappointing. But replacing the old Shelton Hospital in Shrewsbury in 2012 with the purpose built Redwoods Centre for residential care, has been a huge improvement. This offers much more appropriate care to mental health patients from across the Ludlow Constituency.
Specialist EMI care is increasingly relevant as our population ages: the number of people in South Shropshire living past 90 years old has increased 25% since I was first elected. It is encouraging that more care homes across South Shropshire have specialist beds to provide this care as demand for dementia services grows.
So I am very pleased that support from Shropshire MIND and other voluntary services continue to expand. MIND established a weekly support group in Bridgnorth last year. I have from time to time joined one of Ludlow MIND's regular lunchtime meetings, most recently a few weeks before Christmas.
Meeting mental health needs is a growing challenge, as both demand and recognition increases, but ensuring coordination of appropriate NHS and voluntary services for mental health in South Shropshire is vital.