Y Pwyllgor Iechyd a Gofal Cymdeithasol

Health and Social Care Committee

24/03/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Gareth Davies MS
Jack Sargeant MS
Joyce Watson MS
Mike Hedges MS
Russell George MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Albert Heaney Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Andy Bell Y Ganolfan Iechyd Meddwl
Centre for Mental Health
Dr Antonis Kousoulis Sefydliad Iechyd Meddwl
Mental Health Foundation
Eluned Morgan MS Y Gweinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Minister for Health and Social Services
Heléna Herklots Comisiynydd Pobl Hŷn Cymru
Older People's Commissioner for Wales
Julie Morgan MS Y Dirprwy Weinidog Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Social Services
Kirrin Spiby-Davidson Cynghorydd Polisi, Comisiynydd Plant Cymru
Policy Adviser, Children's Commissioner for Wales
Nick Wood Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Professor Sally Holland Comisiynydd Plant Cymru
Children’s Commissioner for Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Amy Clifton Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Claire Morris Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Helen Finlayson Clerc
Clerk
Lowri Jones Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Philippa Watkins Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Rhayna Mann Swyddog
Official
Sarah Hatherley Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Steven Williams Swyddog
Official

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:32.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:32.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Croeso, bawb. Welcome to the Health and Social Care Committee this morning. I'd like to welcome Members, members of the public watching in. We're a hybrid session this morning, with some Members here in the Senedd and some remotely, and the same with witnesses as well, and all Standing Orders are in line with normal practice. The meeting is bilingual, so Members and those witnesses can speak in Welsh or English. And we've only had one apology this morning from Rhun ap Iorwerth, who's unable to join us today. So, under item 1, if there are any declarations of interest, please say now. No. In that case, thank you. Diolch yn fawr.

2. Rhyddhau cleifion o ysbytai ac effaith hynny ar y llif cleifion drwy ysbytai: sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda’r Gweinidog a’r Dirprwy Weinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
2. Hospital discharge and its impact on patient flow through hospitals: evidence session with the Minister and Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services

In that case, I move to item 2, and this is our final oral session in regards to our inquiry on hospital discharge and the impact on patient flow. And I'm delighted this morning that we've got witnesses: we've got Eluned Morgan, the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the Deputy Minister, Julie Morgan, the Deputy Minister for Social Services. And I'd be grateful if the officials joining us this morning could introduce themselves.

Bore da. Good morning. Albert Heaney, chief social care officer.

Oh, and Nick—just to say, Nick, you shouldn't have to take control yourself at all, so just leave it go by itself. But, Nick, do you want to introduce yourself?

Yes. Sorry. Sorry about that. Nick Wood, deputy chief executive, NHS Wales.

Not at all; no problem at all. Lovely. Right. Okay, thanks ever so much for joining us. Okay. Minister, I'll put the questions, and, Minister, Deputy Minister, you allocate between yourselves whoever you think is the most appropriate to answer. How effective, Minister, do you think that Welsh Government's current policies are in terms of enabling effective patient flow and hospital discharge? Perhaps you can just set us a general perspective of your view on Government policy.

Well, thanks very much. First of all, can I welcome this inquiry that you've undertaken? I think it's probably worth just stating to begin with that the pandemic has put extreme pressure on all parts of the health and social care system, and they've further compounded the long-standing capacity issues within both sectors, and that has led to sustained issues in terms of hospital discharge and patient flow. I think it's probably worth emphasising that this isn't a Welsh-unique situation, this is an issue that is being confronted certainly across the rest of the United Kingdom; my guess is it's happening across the rest of the world as well.

What it really has underlined is the need for us to address this issue as a whole-system approach. It's not just one thing; there are lots and lots of things that are interconnected here, and it's not just about the point of discharge. So, that partnership between health and social care, coupled with a person-centred approach, is absolutely crucial, but we have done a huge amount of work in the past year to make sure that that integration approach is key.

We've been working in particular with the regional partnership boards to support their delivery of discharge to recovery and assess, what we call D2RA, but, more than that, we've recognised that this is a real issue, and that's why we've commissioned the NHS delivery unit to work specifically on this and to undertake six absolutely key goals that they need to deliver on. We've allocated about £25 million towards this. We're going to be delivering a national discharge guidance, but also key to this is not just instructing people to do it, but also giving them the means to do it, and that's why what we've done is we've brought together the transformation fund, the integrated care fund, and we've remade that into the regional integration fund. That means there's a £144 million on a five-year basis now where the plan is to embed the integration between health and social services. One of the key things that they are expected to focus on—. There are six things that we've asked them to focus on; one of them is discharge from hospital. So, we're very keen to make sure that that is driven through. We've learnt a lot through the transformation fund and through the ICF fund. This is about really embedding that system and the way we're working the original integration fund is to make sure that this isn't seen as just extra money. There's a tapering effect so that they embed any new learning and make sure that this is something that they effectively own in the end.

09:35

Can I take it from that that, as it stands currently, you don't believe that there is effective hospital discharge and patient flow?

Well, there's always room to improve here. The very fact that we know there are 1,000 people in our hospitals who are ready for discharge and they're not being discharged—. There are a lot of reasons for that, and we're analysing this on a constant basis, but, of course, we're very, very well aware that part of the reason for that is the fragility of the care system, and Julie Morgan knows chapter and verse on this, and I'm sure she's very keen to contribute here as well.

I'll just bring in the Deputy Minister now, in a moment. I take, of course, the point that there's always room for improvement, but there's got to be a point that whether we're in the position that we're currently in is a reasonable position to be in or not, and I think you're saying it's not and you want to improve on that. Have I got that about right?

Oh, gosh, yes. We definitely want to improve on the situation when we have 1,000 people in the hospital who shouldn't be there. But we're trying to do this, we're trying to tackle this. As I say, the fragility of the care sector is a really key issue here, which is why I think Julie and Albert are absolutely on this, and I'm sure they'll tell you about all of the mechanisms and the things that we're trying to put in place to help that. 

Okay, so I'm very happy for the Deputy Minister to come in at this point, and I'm just keen to understand how things are going to improve in terms of patient flow and discharge. Julie.

Well, the Minister is absolutely right, the care system is very fragile. It was fragile before the pandemic, and it's more fragile since then, and, obviously, to improve the flow, we've got to have all parts working effectively together. And as the Minister said, we need to approach it in a whole-system way. We've had—. The delayed discharges affect the whole of the health service and nothing illustrates more the importance of health and social care working together, and I want to say how closely we have been working together. For a long period of time we had meetings once a week, the Minister and myself, with the local authorities, with the health boards—the care action committee, it was called; it still operates, only not meeting every week now—and we looked at the best way to try to tackle the issues that were holding us up. Obviously, there is more to do, because 1,000 people waiting in hospital is just not satisfactory, and we know that a substantial number of those people waiting are waiting for packages of care, waiting for support to go home or to go in a care home. That's why we've put such a huge effort into trying to booster the care system in terms of the shortages there are, particularly, of staff, because that's one of the major things that's holding us up, the shortages of staff, and that's why we've made great efforts. I don't know whether you want me to go into now all the things we've done. 

09:40

No. If that could be drawn out through the answers throughout the course, that would be helpful. Thank you, Deputy Minister. Minister, you talk in your paper about a system reset. What's that all about?

Well, this is really—. Because we've been in a pandemic, there's been a lot of firefighting. So, the key thing is, now, we've got to get to a place where we're getting back to some kind of normality, but how do you do that? Well, you reset the system. But, in order to reset the system, you need to manage expectations in terms of what are the standards we're expecting from the system, and the key thing is that we need people to improve the flow through the hospitals.

So, we had a reset programme that ran for two weeks, up until 16 March, and what happened is that Judith Paget, who's the NHS chief executive, set out a number of areas that the health and social care services could tackle, both individually and collaboratively. So, one of the issues with patient flow is there's a danger that people will say, 'It's not me, it's them.' The ambulance service will say, 'Well, we can't get people into hospital because there are issues at A&E', and then A&E say, 'Well, we can't get people into hospital because we haven't got any beds', and then the hospital directors say, 'We can't do it because we can't get people out of our hospitals', and everybody is blaming each other. So, it's trying to say, 'Right, this bit is your responsibility. You sort that little bit out.' So, that's the idea of a system reset. So, what happens next is that we're going to have a national learning event to help review what happened there, and maybe Nick could come in on this, because I know Nick is very much involved in this. 

On that system reset—Nick is perhaps happy to answer as well—but it sounds like that was happening over a two-week period. So, have I got this right, that the system reset has happened? Is that correct?

That's correct, yes.

So, I think the key was that it was a point in time that we asked health boards, local authorities and other partners to get together to work through the issues that were basically existing and we've talked about already in this meeting in terms of those delayed discharges et cetera. It's been effective in terms of it's brought everybody together, and I think there's now a clear action plan as we move forward. There was no way that within a two-week, 14-day, period that the system was going to move from its response mode back into a sort of normal situation. I think what we've seen is a complete stabilisation across the system. So, things have improved in some areas; we've seen fewer ambulance delays and we've seen better flow through the hospital system.

In certain areas, there have been issues that have been resolved around discharges and teams getting back into the basics of clear ward rounds, discharge planning and then liaison with social care and other partners. That will be followed through now as we move into the rest of this month and into the next financial year. In some respects, I think what comes out of the learning event will be key as part of our initiation, if you like, of the six goals, which is that whole programme of improvement for urgent and emergency care, which goes from the front door right the way through to the back door. We were very keen for health boards to adopt the reset as a start point for the delivery of that. The learning event will pull out where things have worked particularly well in certain health board areas, and also where things have, perhaps, not worked so well and what else we can do to improve the system. That will then flow through into a long-term improvement plan for urgent and emergency care, which, in effect, has commenced with the reset.

09:45

Okay. Thank you, Nick. I completely understand, of course, that the reset wasn't a reset that was all going to be complete by 16 March, but from your perspective and from the Minister's perspective, you think it was effective in terms of what it set out to achieve.

Certainly, in terms of bringing the teams together, being absolutely clear what the actions were that we required health boards, local authorities, et cetera to deliver, then it has been effective. Is it the magic bullet to solve the system issues? No, it's not. But it is the starting gun, if you like, for a long-term improvement plan that we need to implement across Wales.

Can I just add to that, Russell? I saw a really good example in Llandudno hospital recently where they had initiated something new as a result of the system reset, where they had a traffic-light system for people who were in that position of being in hospital where they were ready for release. Every day, they had to demonstrate that they had done something to move on the situation so that that patient was closer to being released. They had to move something on every single day, or they had a red mark against them. Those kinds of initiatives, I think, are really important, and they suggested that that had been really helpful. I know Albert had his hand up.

He did. That's interesting to understand, that last example, Minister. Albert.

Thank you, Chair. The system reset, I think, has been extremely significant for us all. As Nick and the Minister said, it has brought partners together. From a Welsh local government perspective, from a social services perspective, it's really energised the discussions across the whole system and it's been really powerful to get the exec directors in the room together, really planning and working through some of the challenges. It has, for the committee to be aware, really focused minds. It's focused minds on key issues such as length of stay, resetting priorities and working across the primary community and social care system to enable more effective discharges. What we have seen is that a considerable number of the people who were delayers at the beginning of March have moved through the system. But, of course, the challenge remains about the flow, and I think that's where the learning event will be ever so significant to us as well.

Thank you, Albert. Perhaps moving on to a fresh question, Minister, the Welsh Government, of course, suspended the collection of delayed transfer of care data with the pandemic, and I know you're working towards more formal data collection and publication for the future. That's what your evidence paper says. Can you talk a little to that, please? 

The system we had before was more or less a kind of census day, once a month collection of, 'What does the photograph look like?' That was the system, and that's the system that's been suspended. During this time, as Julie was saying earlier, we've been having these weekly meetings of the care action committee, and what we're trying to do is to get a much better sense of what is the real-time situation. What is it? Where are the blocks in the system? What are the blocks in the system? How do we get a better real-time data system that can be much more granular in terms of pointing out what is the issue here? Is it because people aren't being discharged because they haven't got their medicines? Is it because they need care and repair to go into their home? Is it because, actually, you need an occupational therapist to do an assessment? It's breaking all of those things down, making it much more granular. There's an attempt now to develop a much more real-time system, taking the best of the old system and creating a new system that takes into account the D2RA—that's discharge to recover then assess. Obviously, the plan is that that would align with the six goals of urgent and emergency care that are being led by that delivery unit.

09:50

We are developing that with stakeholders now, and through April and May, and we're hoping that the revised arrangements will be in place later this year.

Okay. We've had quite a bit of evidence from other stakeholders that had concerns with the previous data measure. The Welsh Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Social Services and Audit Wales have all made various concerns and criticisms. Are you aware of those, and are they being taken into account? Or is there any criticism that they've provided that you don't agree with? Perhaps if you could talk a little to that. Do you think all their concerns will be addressed?

Well, the fact is we're building it with them, so if they've got any issues, they can address it. The care action committee looked at this in quite a lot of detail, and there are some real experts at local government level who know their stuff here, who have real data analytics skills, and them working with health boards is absolutely key. So, if there's an issue, they're in the right place to try and effect change as well, and to influence what that new system will look like.

Okay. So, you're pretty confident that all their criticisms will be addressed because they're helping you to develop the new data system. Okay. Thank you.

I'd better move on. I know that we've got a lot of questions to get through; are you happy, Minister and Deputy Minister, if a Member thought you weren't quite getting to the point, to be interrupted? I don't want to be rude in any way, but it just helps us to move things on. Right, we've got permission. Gareth Davies.

Oh, I'm not sure about that. Diolch, Gadeirydd, a bore da, bawb. I just want to direct my first question to the Deputy Minister. You mentioned in your first piece of evidence the mechanisms to address the situation in terms of the lack of social care capacity. What immediate actions are the Welsh Government intending to take to address this situation to help the care sector and mitigate the impact on patient flow through hospitals?

Diolch, Gareth. Thank you very much for that question. Obviously, we're very aware of the long-standing problems, particularly with recruitment and retention in the social care sector, as you know, and specifically, really, in domiciliary care and in the care homes. I think we've talked a lot about where that shortage is. I'll go through some of the things that we have done and we are doing.

We're introducing the real living wage from April, and we, as you know, have set up the social care fair work forum, which is working with us, looking at how we can improve working conditions and wider pay and progression in the social care sector. The social care fair work forum advised us on how to introduce the real living wage, and we're introducing that from April. We also announced an additional payment scheme aligned with the real living wage that will make a payment of £1,498 to social care workers who will be receiving the real living wage, and the additional payment will be made in June to care workers in care homes, domiciliary care workers and personal assistants. So, those are two things that will be coming up imminently in the months ahead, and we do hope that that will make a difference to recruitment and retention.

We've added a further £10 million to the amended local government settlement with the intention that local authorities purchase additional electric fleet vehicles for use by domiciliary care workers who currently don't have access to a car, because we've been told that this is one of the issues that causes a real problem for domiciliary care workers. So, we're working with local authorities to enable domiciliary care workers to use those cars. We've also worked with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to ensure driving test dates for Welsh domiciliary care workers are prioritised, and we intend funding to be utilised to pay for driving lessons for domiciliary care workers, because these are just key issues and are a barrier to recruitment. Obviously, we continue to support Social Care Wales to deliver free online introductory training, which of course we've been doing for some time. That's a quick list of some of the immediate things that are coming in the forthcoming months. 

09:55

Thank you for that, Deputy Minister. I appreciate that answer. I want to stay on the theme of domiciliary care for the second part of my questioning on this subject—not necessarily the providers of the care, but the recipients of the care. People are being placed in residential care as an interim measure after leaving hospital, raising concerns that they may never return home, when they might be, actually, fit for home. So, with those concerns in mind, what are the Welsh Government doing to address these concerns?

We obviously are very concerned about recipients of care not being able to go back to their own home, because that's where the vast majority of people want to be, and that is our policy, to support people in their own homes. But, obviously, it has been a very difficult time. I believe that local authorities are working very hard to make the best use of their in-house domiciliary support services and the ones that they commission in the independent sector. And local authorities are promoting the use of direct payments, where people can purchase suitable care services, although I know that that is difficult as well, in terms of recruiting personal assistants in some areas. But that is another way that this can be tackled.

When people move into residential care because we can't put the support in at home, we do expect local authorities to continue to search for and identify care-at-home services at the earliest opportunity, to allow people to return home as soon as they possibly can. So, that is our aim. Certainly, people should not be stranded in some interim placements in residential care. The Welsh Government is supporting the NHS delivery unit to lead a task and finish group on interim placements, and so we'll have more idea then, when they've done this, about the scale of the issue and the impacts and potential solutions. Because with the care sector being as it is, such a wide sector, with 80 per cent being in the private sector, it's very difficult to get to grips with exactly the extent of the issue. So, it will be very interesting to see what the delivery unit come up with. 

I appreciate that comprehensive answer, Deputy Minister. What are the Welsh Government doing to stop social care losing out to the NHS in terms of staff leaving the health service because of pay? For example, allied health professionals and occupational therapists can be paid up to £10,000 a year more in the NHS than they can be paid in local authorities. So, what are you doing to address those issues? I often get criticised for comparing people who work in supermarkets to those in the social care sector, but it's not to degrade supermarket workers, it's just to put in a bit of a comparison. A lot of social care workers work unsociable hours, they work nights and they work weekends; it's a very involved role. So, what are you doing specifically to support those social care workers and make them feel more valued in their roles, compared to losing essentially a lot of social care staff to the NHS when their qualifications or experience don't necessarily dictate that sort of career path being laid out for them?

We were very anxious to support social care workers and recognise the professionalism of what they do. I think, Gareth, you're absolutely right in describing the complexity of the work they do, and I think we all recognise it and praise it. But, they are not rewarded in the way that they should be and they haven't got the terms and conditions that they should have, and they are not equal to people doing the same job in the NHS, for example. And so it is a huge problem. In my previous answer, I went through all the things that we're trying to do at the moment—the real living wage and all the payments—and all of that is a move towards the professionalisation of the workforce, but it will obviously take some time to develop. I mentioned as well the training that is being offered by Social Care Wales, because training again is very important to build up a workforce. So, it is a difficult issue, and I think those things that I mentioned before will contribute towards this, and we want the social care fair work forum to give us more information, in the work that they're doing, to try to see how we can move to better conditions. Because, again, the terms and conditions in the NHS, for example, are much better than in social care. So, there's a huge task to do, but we're starting to do that. And also, we do know that there is a problem with social workers in terms of the challenges about the recruitment and retention of social workers.

10:00

Thanks for that, Minister, and I'll come on to social workers specifically later on. Just on the next section, I'd like to bring up the issue of the national pay structure for social care workers. I recently mentioned in Plenary in the draft budget that it would only cost an extra £9 million for the Welsh Government to actually implement a social care national pay structure in line with NHS pay scales. Do you recognise, Deputy Minister, that we need a national pay structure for social care workers, something that will bring it into some sort of parity with the NHS?

Yes, we're aware of calls for national pay structures for social care. We know that this is something that we have asked the fair work forum to look at. So, I would certainly recognise that, that we do need—. I think we do need to move towards a national pay structure. But, the forum has been very involved in giving us advice on the real living wage, and it is now developing a pay and progression framework for the sector. It hasn't set out its timetable yet for that particular piece of work, but, as I've said before, it's all a very complex sector, and we've found it quite difficult to find a means for the implementation of the real living wage. That's why it's so important, I think, that we look at this next stage of a national pay structure through the forum. I think this is the way that we're moving. I don't know about your estimate of the £9 million. I don't know whether any of the officials—

Can I just say, Albert Heaney wanted to come in at this point? Albert, do you want to come in?

Yes. Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Minister. I thought it was a really helpful question. I think a few years ago it wasn't really a popular concept, and I think we've seen quite a shift in both local government thinking and some of the professional group thinking as well. Just to complement the very helpful description by the Minister, we currently have Social Care Wales who are actively doing a mapping exercise. So, just to reassure the committee that this is very much a live discussion point. They're currently working across local authorities, both in terms of assessing the current position, looking at the issues at hand, and also the appetite for change. From that, I think that will give us the momentum then to begin to take forward. I wouldn't want to commit to costs today, and I think the reason for that is just the reserved nature of knowing that, when you have any kind of job-evaluation-type process or national pay scale, there's wide variation and of course there's a degree to negotiate through that process as well.

I just wanted to add, Chair, if I may, one other thing, because we're looking to strengthen social care in Wales, we're looking to promote social care as a profession to value and a profession to work in, and we're seeing lots of good things from the We Care Wales campaign, but also I think what's forthcoming in the budget settlement that's been allocated has given local authorities, for social care, a substantial allocation for the next three financial years. And it also allows us then, with some of the reform funding we have, to complement, through our national framework, our care offers, and begin to really complement that workforce agenda that is a necessity to improve as well. Thank you. Thank you, Chair. 

10:05

Thank you, Albert. I think, Gareth, we've got time for one more question if you wanted to come back at all.

Yes, thank you, Chair. Just to wrap up, and, as promised, to raise the issue of social workers, and the shortages in the sector. Does the Welsh Government recognise this? And in previous committee sessions, the British Association of Social Workers Cymru have told the committee, and myself in meetings, that one easy way to increase the numbers of social workers is to address the bursary disparity for student social workers. Are you willing to address this issue? I suppose that's to the Deputy Minister again.

Thanks very much, Gareth. Yes, I did mention earlier on that we were aware of the difficulties in recruiting social workers, and it has been increasingly challenging. So, Social Care Wales is currently, as Albert has mentioned, developing a social workforce plan, and that's working with the local authorities, with BASW, the British Association of Social Workers, and that is particularly looking at what steps can be taken to assist them with their recruitment. And that's going to be published in April, and so, we can see what further action we can do at that time. 

It does take a minimum of two years to train new social workers. So, I think we've got to think more broadly about how to attract and retain social workers. I suppose I should perhaps have declared an interest, in that I was a social worker, and I trained as a social worker. So, I don't know whether I should have done that.

But, of course, uplifting the social work bursary is—. We've heard the calls about that, and we have actually met and discussed it with students. And we're looking at that very closely as part of seeing what we can do about that. But it's not a panacea in itself, and we will be looking at a range of things. And, so, yes, we are considering whether we can do anything about the bursary, and Social Care Wales are looking generally at social worker progression.

Good morning, both. I'm going on to the pressure on unpaid carers. And, of course, your announcement this week, I'm sure, is very welcomed by those, and the recognition that they'll have as a consequence of that. But six of the seven health boards and their local authority partners announced publicly that they couldn't honour all agreed care packages, and they'd then asked families and carers if they would take on more responsibility so that they could free up the hospital beds, and, of course, the pandemic exacerbated that. So, what is your response to that situation and how are you addressing the shortfall in the expectation of having a care package?

Thanks very much, Joyce, for that question. I suppose I'll have to start by saying that these are exceptional times and that we do acknowledge the stress that people who care are under, and also the stress that local authorities are under, and we're supporting them to get more care staff as much as we possibly can, and we've already had some discussion about that. 

I think we should understand that these requests for help from relatives and families, and for volunteers from the public, are in the context of this very difficult period, and what, we very much hope, are time-limited circumstances, and that these are things we've had to do during the period of the pandemic. But we do expect local authorities to ensure that people's needs are being met, and to do what we can to rectify any deficits, but recognising that these are exceptionally challenging times. 

So, since January, we've been gathering data on the number of needs assessments completed, the number who are waiting in hospital, and the average waiting time between initial contact and an assessment. And from 14 February, we've been gathering data on the number of assessments completed, the number of individuals who are waiting in hospital for an assessment, and the average waiting time between initial contact and assessment. And the first report with the new data was issued on 17 February. I have also asked members of the ministerial advisory forum on unpaid carers to provide data and examples of unpaid carers who are taking on more caring responsibilities, due to the call from health boards and the calls from local authorities. So, we're trying to gather evidence about how widespread this is. But I think I want to emphasise that this is something that's being done in exceptional circumstances.

10:10

We understand that, but we had evidence from Carers Wales, telling us that the legal obligations under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 are being undermined because there is an expectation that people are both willing and able to provide care. And in some cases—and we know it's exceptional—they might be willing, but the question is: are they able? So, what actions are you doing beyond those that you've already mentioned?

Well, in this financial year, we've provided a £48 million recovery fund for social care, to support the appropriate recovery of social care services in local authority areas across Wales, aligning with the social care recovery framework. And of this funding, £8 million was utilised on a specific range of activities, including unpaid carers support, support for older people, and greater support for children as well. And local authorities were able to spend this funding on a range of things, but specifically mentioned was support for unpaid carers. So, we have given that £48 million recovery fund.

There's been a significant uplift in the 2022-23 budget for the social care sector by the revenue support grant, together with the social care reform fund, and, also, our new capital budget recognises this. I've talked about the budget enabling the real living wage to be offered to the core social care workforce, because, obviously, if we can retain staff, we won't have to go to unpaid carers as much, if they're not able to provide it.

Also, in terms of what else we're doing for unpaid carers, to support them, we've had a £1.25 million carers support fund, which has been so useful, because it's relatively small amounts of money that can be had from it—up to £300. But I've spoken to unpaid carers who are coping at home, and they've said that has been so important, because you don't have to receive any particular benefit to take advantage of that fund. And carers have used it for things like white goods, for fridges, for things that will help in their care of their loved ones, and things for their children. And that's been absolutely invaluable, because it's flexible.

And also, we've been putting in respite services to help unpaid carers—£3 million for respite services and short-break options. And then of course, there's the third sector COVID-19 response fund, again, which has put financial resources in, and an additional £50,000 to Carers Wales, to extend their mental health support for carers. So, what we have done, we have put a lot of resources in, but I know that doesn't address the key issue that there isn't the amount of support that was there before the pandemic. And, as I've said all along, that has always been fragile, which is why we want to reform the sector.

And of course, I will end with what you mentioned at the beginning: we have given this £500 additional payment now to unpaid carers, to carers who are caring for their loved ones for over 35 hours a week. About 57,000 unpaid carers in Wales will get that money if they receive the carers allowance. So, I hope I can satisfy you that we have put a lot of money in, and we do absolutely appreciate the situation, but we hope it will be short-lived.

Beyond money, I've got two key questions. You've already answered one, and that was on direct payments, and you've already recognised that it can be slow. So, can we speed that up? Is there a willingness to put in a fast-track for that?

And the other one: you mentioned respite care, but a lot of day centres where people went for various things have closed. So, are you in conversation with providers of day-care centres to ensure that they are reopening?

And I think I'm going to ask a particular question here about children who are carers and their needs, because very often we forget that there are children and they do need the respite, and whether there's focus on that.

So, there are three things: fast-tracked direct payments; the reopening up of the provision and perhaps even improving it, and you said you've put capital funds in for the day-care centres; and also recognising young people.

10:15

Yes, thanks very much, Joyce, for those three crucial questions. Now, direct payments, I'd support anything that would improve—. Because it does take some time to set them up, but that question is quite timely actually at the moment, because, in early April, the Auditor General for Wales will be publishing a review of how local authorities manage and encourage take-up of direct payments and to judge whether these provide value for money. And this review that he's looked at considered how direct payments are helping people to live independently and are enabling them to have more choice and control and whether they're sustaining their well-being. So, I think that will be really important, when this comes out in early April, so, that's in a couple of weeks, isn't it? And there'll be the opportunity for us to look at that and really start to evaluate direct payments. It's something I've always supported strongly, because it gives control to the individual and recognises the importance of them having their say and keeping it within their control. So, I think it'll be really interesting to see what the auditor general says. And, yes, if we can find any way of speeding it up, of course, I think that would be great, but that will inform us in doing that.

Now, on day services, yes, I've been approached by lots of Members of the Senedd and individuals about the closure of day services. We did commission a report at the height of the pandemic with the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru—we commissioned them to review the delivery of day services during the pandemic. And that report was published last December, and they concluded—well, we would have known this really, wouldn't we—that there was a significant negative impact on day-service delivery and the experience of those who wanted to access this support. There were recommendations, and we're continuing to work with them to engage with people who access day services to try to see that the services are designed and delivered to meet individual needs and preferences. So, we are writing to local authorities now, asking for an update on the experience of reopening day services, but we are aware that a lot of them have not reopened. I know that this is something Albert Heaney has been quite involved in. I don't know whether, Albert, you want to come in on day services before I go on to the next point.

Of course, Minister. It's absolutely critical, colleagues, to return to the types of care and support services that people need within their communities. I think, at the point the Minister references, in December, a great deal of thought was going in across local government, across directors of social services, but of course, you'll be aware of the latest wave that happened that had an impact—so, again, I'm coming back into the impact of the pandemic. The pandemic clearly had an impact around workforce—workforce who were ill, workforce self-isolating—and a whole host of factors that meant that some of the very skilled workers who operate the day-care services were actually redeployed into other front-line activities.

As we're now emerging out of that—the Minister is absolutely right—we are focusing with directors to return to business and to actually look at where we can innovate and deliver things together more effectively across our communities as well. Thank you.

10:20

And on your last point, about young carers, it's obviously crucial that we do help them, and we have been working with young carers to provide opportunities for respite, and I think I've already mentioned that we had this £3 million that we've put in to provide respite, and we have got a commitment in our programme for government to provide a short-breaks scheme, which we are working with our partners to do. So, there are some examples of respite for young people already. Some local authorities enable them to use leisure facilities at no cost, and there are examples of giving the opportunities to have access to forest schools, for example. Those are some examples of the respite provision that we do provide.

The other very important thing that we've worked at with young carers is to provide the identity card for young carers, which is something they specifically asked for, because, as you said, Joyce, I think when you said this, a lot of people don't realise that such young children and carers are carers for members of their family often, and people don't know about it. And in schools, for example, we've heard tales from young carers of having to go around the school explaining to loads of different people that they are a carer, and they wanted to have something that they could just show people and people didn't ask any more questions. They recognised that they were in a position where, if they were late one day, it wasn't because they didn't get up; it was because they had more responsibilities at home. And now we've got the ID card in virtually every local authority in Wales, and when I met some young carers a couple of weeks ago, the first thing the young carer showed me was her card, and she was so proud of it. So, I think the carers ID card is very important in helping young carers to cope, along with the respite and the support groups, as well, that we provide for young carers.

Thank you, Deputy Minister. We're struggling a little bit for time. Have you managed to get through the questions you need to, Joyce? Thank you.

Can I just ask ever so briefly, Deputy Minister—? Your paper refers to a recruitment campaign for care workers, and says that there was a 180 per cent increase in those looking at the WeCare.Wales national jobs portal. That in itself sounds very positive. Did that translate into applications—additional applications? What was the assessment, just briefly?

Well, that's where the difficult issue is, because, in fact, in that WeCare.Wales campaign, it was estimated that it was seen by half of Welsh adults, 46 per cent, and that overall there were more than 18 million opportunities to see the adverts and the promotional messages. So, we're working with the advertising professionals and a workforce survey to understand more about how the adverts were received and which were the most successful at channelling messages, and this will allow us to inform how we go ahead with our advertising in the future. The problem is, as the majority of social care services are in the independent sector, it's very difficult to access comprehensive information as to the recruitment activity across Wales, but we'll continue—. You know, we're very closely in touch with the directors of social services, who report on service sufficiency, and Albert, I think, meets them every week to discuss this with them. But I'm not able to give you any definitive answer, because 80 per cent of the services are in the independent sector, and it's not been possible to actually translate the interest in the portal into how many jobs.

I don't mind if officials want to come in—I can see Albert nodding. When you see a statement of a 180 per cent increase, that's good and positive, but I'd like to think that there's some mechanism to provide some analysis of how successful that campaign has been. Would Albert like to come in at all on that point?

10:25

Yes, thank you, Chair. It's a really good question, because I think, firstly, we should celebrate the success of the WeCare.Wales campaign. It does two things: it's out there actively looking to recruit, so it's publicising, giving messages; and the other thing, the second thing, for me, is it actually is raising the profile of social care. It's visible and it's seen, so I think it has a double opportunity.

We do need to work through, as the Minister says, that bit of how we translate from the activity that we can see in terms of coming through into then how the applications are received by a host of employers. What we are seeing, however—this is where the conversations come in with directors of social services and other colleagues, and especially Social Care Wales—is the preparation work that goes into preparing a candidate, so they get coaching, they get advice, they get support in preparing their application, and we are seeing that those that have come into jobs, we're told, are actually staying in those particular fields as well. So, it seems to be that those that are coming through, for the committee today to be aware, are much more social care career-ready than perhaps the workforce previously was. What we will do is we will take away that issue about how do we get a measurement of how it translates into the application process.

Thank you. I appreciate that. If there's any additional analysis that comes that you can think of that would be useful to us, please do provide it.

Minister and Deputy Minister, we're due to finish at 10:45. Would you be willing to go on to 10:50 at all, an extra five minutes? I'm just checking that's okay. I think it's okay.

It looks likes she's checking her diary. Thank you very much. I really appreciate that. In that case, we've got 10 minutes for Jack to ask your questions, 10 minutes, Mike, for your section, and five minutes for your section at the end, Gareth, just to help with the time. The Ministers have all agreed that they're happy for you to politely interrupt them if you're not quite getting to the answer you want. Jack Sargeant.

Diolch, Cadeirydd—very kind of you. I'll try and be quick. One of the main themes throughout certainly all the oral evidence sessions that we have had on this issue was the lack of joint working and, again, poor communication. Now, I think I'll stay away, given the time restraints, from lack of joint work. My assumption, from your earlier answers to the Chair, with the system reset, is that you would hope some of that lack of joint working would be addressed as an outcome of the discussions over the two-week period.

But I do want to bring up the poor communication, and that was a key theme throughout, whether that be through hospital departments, through different organisations, or even directly with the patients themselves, and we did hear that there is little or no communication from hospital staff with patients' families and carers even when they have lasting power of attorney. Now, that's quite a significant piece of evidence; it's certainly stuck with me, and I know it's stuck with other committee members since we heard it. Can I ask the Minister today, then: will you commit to reviewing this? I'm sure officials from the committee side will help your officials and direct you to this particular piece of evidence, but will you commit today to reviewing that piece of evidence?

Thanks very much, Jack, and I will commit to that. I think there is more we can do in that space. I think we do have to remember the context at the time of the pandemic. I'd spoken to a lot of people who were saying, 'Look, my parents went into hospital', and, basically, they went into a home and they had no idea what was going on, and how concerning is that in the middle of a pandemic? That is really, really worrying. It was just that everybody was all hands on deck, and I just can't begin to describe to you the pressure that some of these hospital staff were under.

So, we know that there is room for improvement when it comes to communication with carers and families, in particular those who are in hospitals, but we have set out in our discharge guidance how families and unpaid carers must be engaged, informed and supported throughout that discharge process. But I think it's right for us to keep this guidance under review in the light of this inquiry, but also just to make sure that, actually, what is in place already is being absolutely carried out. I think there's a lot we can learn from carers organisations. I think they've—Julie can correct me if I'm wrong here, but I think they've produced a best practice guidance for social care workers on how to engage with unpaid carers, including in relation to hospital discharge. So, what I'd like to do is to develop similar guidance for health workers. So, yes, Jack, if you leave that with us we will certainly be revising that and taking account of some of the points that you've heard in your inquiry.

10:30

I'm grateful for your answer there, Minister, and your commitment to doing so. We also did have highlighted through evidence, in terms of assessments, delays in the assessment process, but also the quality of assessments. Again, I don't want to put this on the staff—we all understand they've done a fantastic job under some extreme circumstances and, of course, we thank them for that—but I think it's about having those operating procedures, if you like, in place to allow the staff the time and ability to go on to do their job to the best of their abilities. But we heard staff often filled out the 'what matters' template without involving the patient and the family again. Can I just ask: does the Welsh Government monitor the quality of assessments and, of course, the delays? There clearly are improvements needed to this process. I'm assuming you intend on making those improvements. Can you enlighten the committee as to what they might look like?

Fine, yes. Well, first of all, it's totally unacceptable what you've told us, Jack. Patients, families and carers should be absolutely fully involved in assessments. I think, again, we have to say that this has been an exceptional time. The pressures of the pandemic and staff shortages have led to delays in assessments and have impacted on what should be best practice—well, should be normal practice—to involve the patient and the families. But I just think we have to recognise that some staff have been redeployed on urgent priorities, such as COVID vaccination.

We are investing in education and training of healthcare workers, and we are trying to improve the assessment process. We're supporting the discharge to recover then assess, the D2RA, model, through guidance, funding and support from the NHS delivery unit. The focus is on supporting recovery and independence prior to assessments for longer term care in order to get the best outcomes for patients. So, we are investing in training in order to improve the quality of the assessments, Jack, and we do absolutely accept that the assessments are crucial and those crucial people should be involved. 

Thank you, Deputy Minister. I'll move on to one final question from me, Chair, if that's okay. We heard again in evidence—and I think it rather stunned the committee to hear this; I still quite can't believe it, and it's been raised in the Chamber before—we heard that a health board had recently bought a fax machine for their new hospital. It does puzzle me as to why this is still the case. But it does highlight a serious issue that we do need to modernise our IT infrastructure. I know the Minister has spoken about e-prescribing in particular, but this is a wider problem in the health service in general. Can I ask, then, do you share the frustrations of the committee? I'm sure I speak on behalf of committee members when I say that. I can see Mike Hedges nodding there. Do you share those frustrations, and do you recognise those frustrations, where things are being sent perhaps by fax, rather than e-mail, as a simple one, but there's clearly a wider issue? And also what are the plans therefore, then, to modernise the infrastructure in ICT in the NHS and, perhaps wider, even to the care sector as well?

Thanks very much, Jack, for that. I haven't personally come across a fax machine, but I accept that you were given evidence that faxes were still being used. In fact, do people still know how to use them, I wonder. But I think, as the Minister has said earlier, you know, in the care action committee, we continue to work about establishing the integrated health and social care data set, and we are focusing on ensuring that we're improving our communication systems for processes, particularly such as referrals, and modernisation of local authority data systems is a key area of development. And the Welsh community care information system is one of the drivers for this, as it allows for a shared system for using and sharing data. And there's also development work ongoing via the administrative data research unit and the secure anonymised information linkage data bank to improve the anonymised sharing of data and information for research and innovation purposes.

10:35

Finally, Chair, because I know that time is precious, but can I just press the Deputy Minister on if there is a timescale to that procedure, that process?

Well, the NHS delivery unit is scoping out the work in the area and this is at an early stage, so I can't really give any timescales at the moment, but it's likely to be a short-term project.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I'm going to talk about housing, as you and probably the Minister have heard me do on several occasions. I see housing as the third pillar alongside social care and health. 

The first question I've got is: how many of the people awaiting a discharge are awaiting discharge because of the inadequacy of the home that they're going to be returned to or the need for adaptations in their home?

Well, I think this is the kind of granular detail that we're hoping to get from the data set, because we know that there are examples. I met a gentleman recently in Llandudno hospital, for example, who had had his leg amputated and he lived on the third floor, in an apartment, and he clearly couldn't go back there. And one of the issues then was, rather than recognise that at the start of the process, that this is what was likely to be the outcome, they didn't start assessing, 'Right, okay. Let's work, let's find a place for this gentleman.' Rather than do that at the beginning of the process, which would've allowed them an extra month, this poor chap was still in hospital waiting for a home. So, there are clearly things that we need to tighten up and you should be able to foresee those kinds of issues.

We've poured money into Care & Repair Cymru. So, there has been some very significant and additional funding that's gone in in terms of winter pressures. So, we recognise that adapting homes is absolutely crucial, and certainly making sure that that occupational therapy assessment and things are ready is crucial as well.

Sometimes, only minor changes are needed. Sometimes, the people who go and look at a build, a house, can want to put grab rails everywhere when, in one case, a carpet in the lounge was all that was actually needed for people to be able to move around safely. 

But Care & Repair said that unless housing is part of the Welsh Government's discharge to recover then assess policy it won't work. Do you agree with them, and, if you do, how are you going to get housing as part of it?

I don't know if Julie can help with this as well, but, as I say, I think we have actually recognised Care & Repair Cymru as a very crucial partner in this space, and certainly, we have given, as I say, some significant additional funding. In fact, we've gone back to health boards recently and asked them, 'Do you intend to continue funding?' because the money we gave was additional funding. And at one point, it was all but one, but now I think all health boards have said, 'We are going to be continuing this into the long term.' I hope that that's right. Albert and Julie, is that right?

Yes, I think so. I think it's absolutely crucial that housing is an integrated part of how we plan, and we do, actually, currently invest £17.66 million in grants to local authorities' housing associations and Care & Repair agencies. And of course, we do give a huge amount for disabled facilities grants, so we do put the money in. But one of the things that we are keen to develop in terms of housing and the housing stock is to develop extra care and to build extra-care facilities, where people are able to live independently, but they're able to have all the extra care put in that will enable them to stay in their own homes. So, we are very keen to do that, and we certainly do recognise that housing is absolutely crucial.

10:40

Thank you very much. Perhaps something we, Chair, can do as a committee, is write to the Minister concerned, asking what the waiting list in each authority is for disabled facilities grants being approved and implemented.

I haven't talked about the ambulance service. I live very close to Morriston Hospital, and Morriston Hospital has a lot of ambulances waiting outside it most of the time. You've talked about a whole-system approach. What are we going to do to try and reduce the number of people attending A&E who are not an accident or an emergency but are using it as the only way you can get to see a doctor that day?

Thanks, Mike, and I know this was a question you asked in the Chamber yesterday, effectively, and I think it's the absolute key question: how do we make sure that people are basically not abusing accident and emergency? Look, it's understandable that people feel frustrated that they can't get to see a GP or whatever, that they're looking for alternatives. What we're trying to do is to make sure that those alternatives exist in an easy way within communities, which is why we've put significant additional funding into urgent care centres within the communities—primary urgent care centres—but also the 111 system. And the idea with the 111 system is that, actually, it's not a red-light service, but what you can do is to direct people to the most appropriate care for them and make sure that they're getting that support and so avoiding them going to A&E.

And then the other thing we've done recently is the SDEC services—. We used to call them 'ambulatory care'; that's same day emergency care. We've put, again, significant additional resources into this. And it's something we'll be pushing health boards on, and some are further advanced than others. And what happens—. And we're just completing our guidance now, so that ambulance services and paramedics can direct people, can basically direct people straight to that SDEC facility, thereby avoiding accident and emergency. So, that is already happening in some places, but that guidance will be published very soon.

Most people who go to A&E don't go by ambulance. If they did, you wouldn't have a queueing system. What are you going to do about bringing in a system of triage at which people are dealt with within the system, on the same day, but by the more appropriate people, rather than taking up the time of an A&E consultant, meaning that people who are seriously ill are still left outside in the ambulances?

So, I think the key to this, partly, is 111. I think that they should be able to direct people to the most appropriate service. As I say, I think that the primary care urgent care centres—. So, Barry memorial hospital, for example, is brilliant. It works really, really well; it avoids people going to A&E. If you've got a broken arm, you can go there—it's not a kind of life-or-death situation, but, actually, you do need it sorted and you can book an appointment there. So, there are alternatives that are working well already. We just also need to raise public awareness of these alternatives.

But I think the problem is that people are already in the A&E system. They've arrived. How can we deal with them in such a way that they're not clogging up the A&E system? And how can we ensure—? Because you know, from talking to people in the medical profession, that most A&Es are staffed by a lot of relatively junior doctors who always err on the side of caution. Keeping somebody in for 24 hours under observation is the simple thing to do; you'll never get into trouble for doing that. If you send somebody home and they become seriously ill or die, that's the end of your career. If I were an A&E consultant, an A&E doctor, I'd do exactly that. But it is actually keeping lots of people in for 24 hours. The question I asked you yesterday, I'll ask it again today: how many people are going into A&E and are being released, either by not needing to be admitted, or are in a situation that they're released within 24 hours?

Well, it's not straightforward to answer that question, because there are lots of reasons why people may not be able to go home. It may be that they don't have any support at home and they need some support, just for overnight or whatever. So, there are lots and lots of different reasons. So, every person you have to deal with as an individual.

One of the things we've done is to increase the number of experts in the ambulance service, when they're answering the phone, so that we've got 25 new experts that are triaging at that point, who do feel confident to make those calls to say, 'Actually, you don't need to go to A&E.' I think that's a really important development. I'm just wondering if Nick has got anything to add here.

10:45

Thanks, Minister. I think, in answer to Mr Hedges's question, the numbers that are actually admitted into hospital from A&E can vary from between about 25 per cent and 35 per cent of the total attendances. Two thirds are discharged, usually on the same day, usually within four or five hours from an A&E department. I think the key is, of that 65 per cent, how many shouldn't be going to A&E, because there are some who need to go to A&E and will rightly have an ambulatory assessment, a medical assessment, be dealt with at that point. The 111 service is now a national service, so we can pre-triage, and I think that the message has got to get through to the public that there are two numbers, 111 and 999, where 999 is an emergency service and 111 is an urgent service. If we can get the message to people then we will stop unintended attendance at A&E.

What I saw in Aneurin Bevan when we introduced the urgent primary care service was that we were redirecting people from A&E, so if people turned up at A&E and they would be better off being seen by a primary care physician, they were asked to go to one of the urgent primary care centres. We've got to do more of that. It is inconvenient for people, I understand that, but, actually, it's the right pathway. The end point here has got to be to reduce the number of attendances at A&E. There are a number of mechanisms to do that. They will all take time and they will all involve engagement of the public in navigating the system more effectively. I think if we simplify that, which we have with 111 and 999, we start to give ourselves the levers to be able to do that. So, I think that's where we've got to go.

Of course, everybody sees A&E as the default option because they normally get seen, treated and discharged within four or five hours, and if we can provide alternatives to that that are as effective, such as urgent primary care, such as ambulatory care, such as walk-in GP appointments, such as community services through 111, then that is a much more effective way of dealing with the population and the problem that we've got. 

It's only recently that that 111 service is available throughout the whole of Wales, so we haven't really been able to advertise it as an all-Wales service, but that has now changed. So, we're just waiting for the Cardiff system to embed a little bit before doing a really big promotion on the 111 system.

Thank you, Mike. Thanks, Minister. We've got two minutes left, so quick-fire questions from Gareth Davies, which will need quick-fire responses. 

Thank you, Chair. We've heard that hospital staff need further dementia training. Is this something that the Welsh Government is willing to implement? Could you also tell us your views on recommendations made by the cross-party group on dementia, including their calls for hospitals to trial set discharge slots for people with dementia?

These areas of work come under Lynne Neagle, the Deputy Minister for health and well-being, so if you want more detailed responses, I think you could probably get them from her. But just to give a quick answer, we're not currently considering any additional mandatory training, but you will know that the dementia action plan that was published in September 2021 does confirm that learning and development is a key priority, and we certainly support the learning and development within the system. And then on the recommendations of the cross-party group on dementia, officials are currently looking at the findings from the cross-party group on dementia inquiry report into hospital care in order to inform our future work plan. This will also be brought back to the dementia oversight of implementation and impact group for further discussion.

10:50

Thank you for that. Just really quickly finally, the Welsh Government's evidence notes a lack of capacity in reablement services. What do the Welsh Government see as the main reasons for this and what are the measures it has taken to improve access to these services?

Certainly, the challenges are there in terms of the staffing resource, again, which we've talked about the whole time, and the special skills required in the reablement services. There was recently published the primary and community care allied health professionals workforce guidance, and that has 10 organising principles to optimise the utilisation of the workforce. I think collectively they will result in better health outcomes and better development of the professionals. But, I think we've come across there what we've talked about a lot today—the shortage of the professional staff.

I appreciate those quick-fire answers. Thank you very much.

There we are. Thanks ever so much. We will, of course, take up some of those points with the Minister, Lynne Neagle. So, thank you for that. Minister, Deputy Minister and officials, thanks for your time this morning. I very much appreciate it. Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 4, 8, 9, 10 ac 11 o gyfarfod heddiw
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from items 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of today's meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 4, 8, 9, 10 ac 11 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

I move to item 3, and under Standing Order 17.42 I resolve to exclude the public from items 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of today's meeting. Are Members content with that? In that case, then, we'll reconvene about 11:10 or just after, when we'll be having our first panel in regard to our inquiry into mental health inequality. So, we'll now move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:51.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:51.

11:10

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 11:14.

The committee reconvened in public at 11:14.

5. Anghydraddoldebau iechyd meddwl: sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda’r Ganolfan Iechyd Meddwl a’r Sefydliad Iechyd Meddwl
5. Mental health inequalities: evidence session with Centre for Mental Health and Mental Health Foundation

Welcome back to the Health and Social Care Committee. I move to item 5 today, and item 5 is the first of two items today where we're taking oral evidence in regard to our new inquiry on mental health inequalities. I would be grateful if the witnesses for our first panel today could introduce themselves. Perhaps I can come to you first, Andy Bell.

11:15

Thank you. My name's Andy. I work at Centre for Mental Health. We're an independent, not-for-profit organisation, and our work is all about using research and evidence to eradicate mental health inequalities.

Hi, I'm Antonis Kousoulis. I'm director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation. We're a UK-wide charity of over 70 years, focusing on prevention and inequality.

Lovely. Thank you. I'm going to ask a very, very general question, but I think an important one, at the very start of this first session that we have on mental health inequalities. What does it mean? What does mental health inequalities mean?

I'm happy to start.

That's what we both do, anyway. Mental health inequality, essentially, at its core, is referring to anything that might place people at an unequal risk of experiencing mental health problems, at the very simplest. The issue with mental health inequality is really what sometimes is hidden within that word—the inequity. It is an issue that, essentially, means that some people, some population groups, are systematically disproportionately affected by mental health problems because of disadvantage. So, that's the broad definition, but I think there's an issue of fairness and human rights when we talk more about inequity, as opposed to the broader term of inequality.

Andy Bell, if you want to come in. I suppose I'm just adding to that question about how, perhaps, inequalities exist in society and lead to poorer mental health outcomes as well.

Thank you. Broadly, mental health inequalities are economic and social inequalities. They map very closely onto, for example, inequalities in wealth, inequalities in power, inequalities in status in society. We often hear that anyone can experience a mental illness, and of course that is true, but we know your chances are very, very much greater of having a mental health difficulty if you come from a deprived background, if you are a member of a racialised community. Any kind of disadvantage and discrimination in society is associated with a higher risk of poor mental health. And that's nothing innate about people living in those circumstances; it's about the way society works—the structures, the processes—that puts some people at a far greater risk than others. As Antonis says, we know it's systemic, and we know, crucially, it links to what's going on in society more broadly.

You talk about different groups at risk. Do you think we have enough data that helps us to identify particular groups that are at higher risk in terms of mental health inequalities?

Up to a point, yes. I think we're very, very clear, with all the research evidence we've got, with all the data we get from regular surveys, that rates of poor mental health are higher among some groups than others. In some ways, that's very, very clear. We don't need to be told, we don't need to collate more data to find that out. I think the difficulty is, we often don't have routine data that allows us to track changes in that and to identify what might make a difference.

One thing that, perhaps, is really crucial is that as well as inequalities in what determines our chances of having good or poor mental health, we often see those same inequalities in terms of getting access to support for your mental health and indeed the outcomes and experiences you have if you do get support. We call this a triple barrier. It really does work its way all the way through the system. And again, that's really important, because we need data to know how well public services are meeting people's mental health needs and what they're doing to help reduce that dynamic.

Just to add to what Andy said—I agree with everything—we now have, essentially, decades of evidence. It's very clear on how some groups are systematically disproportionately affected. We know that people living in poverty in more deprived areas have a higher risk of mental health problems. We know about people living in loneliness, in social isolation, people facing discrimination on the basis of what we tend to call 'protected characteristics'—there is very clear evidence specifically within those groups, for example, and for racialised communities. We also know that people who in some shape or form are more likely to be exposed to trauma—and this happens more often in deprived areas—are much more likely to develop a mental health problem. So, there's very clear evidence of the problem, if you like. As Andy said, sometimes the issue we have is translating this problem into accessing the good support, or in fact, even better, preventing the extent of some of the problems.

11:20

Thank you. You've both set the scene well there. I know there'll be follow-up questions on your initial answers. Jack Sargeant.

Can I firstly come on to community solutions, please, and where we're looking—?

Sorry, I can see you were startled. It was my fault; I should have come to Joyce first. I do apologise, Jack, I put you on the spot there. You should have said to me, 'Isn't Joyce next?' Joyce Watson. My apologies, Jack.

Okay. Good morning, both. What is the most recent evidence telling us about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health? And what do you think that will mean in the long term?

I can share some of the intelligence we have from our own research. We've been running a study in collaboration with Swansea University and four other universities across the UK, looking into what are the key sources, what have been the key sources of stress for people, and the key coping mechanisms over the past couple of years.

We have seen certain groups disproportionately affected. Very clearly, the young adults have been there since the start of the pandemic: obviously, disruption in education, in life opportunities, opportunities for connection with their peers. We've seen very clear evidence on single parents. We've seen a difference in the mental health experiences during the pandemic of women versus men. We've seen a disproportionate impact on carers, but in particular informal carers, people working in health and social care, so, the workers, we know—I think this has been extensively mentioned in the news as well. So, these are just some of the groups.

I think what we have seen with COVID, and in many ways we have been expecting this, because this has been a feature of all previous pandemics in the history of the world, is that they exacerbate inequalities. They come in and they don't necessarily cause new inequalities, but they make everything worse where there is fertile ground to make things worse, and this has very much been the case in mental health.

Yes, I completely agree with that. I think there are short-term impacts that we could see straight away. We know that, during the lockdowns, well-being went down for everybody, but particularly those most strongly affected. I think what we know from evidence from previous pandemics, as well as what's emerging from this one, is that the groups of people most directly affected by it, either by the virus itself or by the measures put in place to protect people, are particularly likely to be badly affected in terms of their long-term impacts.

One of the crucial things to say is, as the lockdown restrictions end, as all restrictions end, that doesn't mean the mental health impacts go away, because we know what we're left with is people who've suffered extremely traumatic events in their lives, obviously those particularly who have been treated in hospital in frightening circumstances, people who've lost loved ones, people who've potentially lost their livelihoods, particularly with the cost-of-living crisis, which will be exacerbating that. And so it's really important to understand that the mental health impacts are going to be there for some time afterwards, and we forecast that, across the UK, around about 10 million people will need extra support for their mental health because of the pandemic, and a lot of that has come from the after-effects rather than the immediate impacts of the restrictions that we've all had to live through.

Yes, and they've been well documented. But are there any new or emerging areas of concern that you've been tracking as a consequence? You've just mentioned that it will be ongoing. Ten million, I think you said, which is a huge figure. Obviously, that's UK wide. But there are particular groups of people that you think have been affected by the societal impact of that pandemic that perhaps need a particular focus.

11:25

I think it's been really striking that, overall, across society as a whole, it seems that children and young people have been affected probably more than older age groups, and I think that wasn't necessarily what we expected early on, but it's been very, very clear through every bit of evidence. So, particularly children who have been in very frightening circumstances, those who perhaps have lost loved ones and may have found it really hard to understand what's going on. I think we've seen—. Certainly some work we've been doing with young people in Birmingham suggests that particularly young black men have been overly policed, policed more strictly in terms of lockdown restrictions, than other groups of people. And that has certainly, again, exacerbated an inequality that was there already. And I think it's important to understand the impact on people who have been in prison. For obvious safety reasons, prisoners have been under conditions that, effectively, are equivalent to solitary confinement, often for very, very long periods, and we need to be mindful of the effect that that will have on anyone who has been in that situation.

I would just add to that, if I may, the issue of employment. Many people have been unemployed or in precarious employment during the course of the pandemic, and we know that precarious employment is likely to continue for some time. So, I would like to add that as a consideration. Specifically thinking about Wales, people living in rural areas. We've done work in the past with Public Health Wales on farming and fishing communities. We knew that they were entering the pandemic at a disadvantage, with uncertainty on the back of Brexit, certainly about contracts and making their livelihoods, and this has become worse, with greater isolation and poorer access to services that would be appropriate for them, especially if you consider transport links and the need for services in the Welsh language and things like that for those communities. So, I would just add those as well.

Thank you very much, Chair, and good morning to both the witnesses today. Written evidence we've received describes an outdated medical model for mental health that fails to address broader needs. I'm just seeking the witnesses' views on this and what a more effective model of support would look like.

So, an effective model of support. Who wants to go first? Dr Kousoulis?

Yes, I'm happy to, but do you want to go first, Andy, because I think I've gone first in all questions? 

There we are. Andy first and then Dr Kousoulis. Andy Bell. 

Okay. I think we're both being really polite. [Laughter.]

It's a really important point, and again the more we understand about what affects our mental health and the way in which we can support people either to live well with mental health difficulty or to recover, the more we realise that we really do need a more holistic approach than simply seeing it as faulty brain chemistry, if you like. So, we know, for example, that if the things that cause us poor mental health in the first place are about the precariousness of our lives, if they're about our relationships, if they're about experiences of discrimination, those are the things we need to tackle in order to support people to live well and to recover.

So, some people talk about a social model of mental health, some people use very big, long words like 'biopsychosocial' to talk about mixing together the medical stuff, which still has a place for many, many people. For example, using medication to manage your mental health is an incredibly important part of staying well and, of course, it can be life-saving, but I think we also know increasingly that that's not the only approach that works and, for many, many people, it's actually support to live well, to be safe, to have enough money coming in and, crucially, I think, we increasingly recognise how important trauma is in terms of causing poor mental health in the first place and how we really need services to come with what is called a trauma-informed approach. That's a bit of jargon, but what it really means is that all of your services understand the traumatic events people have been through and what you need in terms of providing support to do the opposite. You need to create safe spaces for people to be in, particularly if they need to be in hospital or in another environment away from home, you give people proper choice in their treatment and the support that they get, and you focus on building relationships.

And of course, the more we see the use of coercion in the mental health system, the more people are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, which sadly is rising year after year after year, we know that can do harm long term. It may be necessary to save a life, but potentially those experiences of coercion can reinforce some of those traumatic experiences people have been through, and we know that's used unequally. So, if you are from an African or Caribbean background, you're something like four times more likely than a white person to be subject to the mental health Act, and there's something deeply, deeply wrong about that.

11:30

I appreciate that, Andy, thanks very much. I was going to actually ask you to go more into detail about the trauma-informed approach. I'm glad you've been able to clarify that this morning. Just to push on that one a little bit more, because the Mental Health Foundation are calling for a trauma-informed approach across all public services, what does that mean in a practical sense and how would that contribute to reducing mental health inequality?

Thank you for this question. A trauma-informed approach essentially means listening, empathetic services that meet people where they are, that understand where people are coming from. So, this whole debate around medical or a different model, I think in some ways we have to think about things quite holistically. I see Wales as a real leader internationally in this space.

So, a very simple example of trauma-informed services is the whole-school approach that Wales has made statutory. So, children that are behaving differently, that are not doing well at school, that are struggling, we shouldn't see them as problem children, we should see them as children with problems and do something about that, increase their chances to complete their education, increase their life opportunities, ensure that they have a connection, ensure that someone is there to listen. Sometimes, there's no-one at home for these children. So, this is just the example of schools, but I think it's a great one for Wales because already a lot of that is being implemented.

I think, on the back of what has happened over the past couple of years, trauma-informed training should start to be offered. A lot of people are coming out of the pandemic traumatised and with some quite persistent causes for being retraumatised and triggered. So, starting from health and social care staff, we need to think about trauma-informed training as a starting point. But I think, referring to what Andy was saying, these skills are very relevant in other settings—criminal justice, blue-light services and areas like that.

I appreciate that clarity, thank you very much. One of the stakeholders' concerns is about an over-reliance on prescribing mediation for people presenting with mental health needs, when there's a limited availability of other options of support. Do you recognise that as a problem and what are the solutions? Apart from the obvious, of investing more into support services, are there any other options they can look at in terms of tackling that sort of issue that the stakeholders have raised about the over-reliance on medication?

I think Andy Bell responded a bit to that in an earlier answer.

I'm happy to have a go at this.

Yes. So, if you look at data between local areas, what you see is antidepressant prescribing in particular really kind of aligns very closely with levels of poverty. One of the things we hear from lots of people who are prescribed antidepressants and GPs in more deprived areas of the country is that they feel that they've got nothing else. It's the only option, as you say. It's partly because poverty is so overwhelming and disadvantage is so overwhelming that, in a sense, it's the only response a GP has to somebody, to provide people with some medication that will manage that sense of despair, if you like. And of course, partly, that's due to the fact that we are making progress in terms of expanding access to talking therapies, but it's still a work in progress. And, of course, for many, many people, if you're living in situations of poverty and insecurity, you don't feel safe in your own home, you don't know when you're going to lose your tenancy, or default on your mortgage, unsurprisingly, talking therapies aren't going to make that go away any more than antidepressants are. So, again, it's about having a kind of response that, where possible, you try and prevent problems from happening in the first place, supporting people into work where possible, making sure you maximise people's incomes. Many people don't get the benefits that they're entitled to for various reasons, and in some ways, those levels of prescribing are a function of a society that is impoverishing people and leaving them with very few other options. 

11:35

I appreciate you tackling that one, Andy. Thank you. And a particular issue we've heard about in the written evidence and focus group is a lack of support for people with co-occurring conditions, and neurodiversity conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, perhaps substance misuse as well. In regards to the lack of support for that, is there any particular view you have on that issue at all?

So, you're right for raising that, and this is also clear in the evidence. So, I appreciate that. There are two issues, I think, in relation to that I would like to raise. First, the issue of support and treatment. We see services that are quite often siloed. They don't take into account the whole presence of a person, their specific needs, and the adaptations that need to be considered for each individual. It is particularly important in issues like, as you raised, neurodiversity or, indeed, addiction.

But building on what Andy was saying earlier, there is a need for greater action earlier within the community that potentially could improve lives before they reach those crisis points. And this again is an area that is sometimes lacking, and people don't necessarily have the same understanding for those services. We know that addictions sometimes start as ways of coping. So, supporting people within local communities, within their contexts, to have positive coping mechanisms, and also protecting them from harms that are outside of their control—I think we've given some examples of that—would be, for me, the starting point. 

I'm very grateful, Chair, and grateful to the witnesses for being here. Can I first personally agree with the trauma-informed approach there, not as a member of the committee, but as a Member of the Senedd? I think Wales could lead the way with that. And for all public services actually—I think we could certainly lead the way there. 

I'd like to focus on community solutions, and how we can further develop them and enhance the community solutions. I have a bit of an issue, and I make no apologies for this—I suffer with poor mental health, and I can tell the committee that this week for me has been particularly rubbish. But I do have a fear, if you like, that, because of COVID, because of other things, we are missing a trick with certain communities. We've already discussed some of those inequalities already. But just what you would call 'normal communities', Joe Bloggs from down the street—I think we're missing a trick here. And the traditional methods of perhaps picking up the phone and ringing the number to the mental health line, whilst it is very good—I would encourage everyone to do that—many people won't.

So, how do we further develop those integral parts, where community spaces are already out there? I look at Newport County as an excellent example of where a football club breaks down the barrier and stigma. How do we do that? Is there space for further development there? And what sort of role should local government and the third sector organisations, football teams, anyone—what sort of role should they play, and how does the Government enable that to happen? You're here, you're here in the room, so I will come to you first, Antonis, and perhaps we can pass over to Andy later on. 

Thank you for this question, and thank you for sharing your own experience as well; that's always appreciated. So, first of all, if you're thinking about community solutions, they need to be finding people in the settings where we spend most of our time, so schools, workplaces—whatever kind of shape or form they're in—and other examples in local communities. So, we have to start with the people that hold power and influence over people's lives, and think about training, think about culture, think about benefits and support. We have done a lot of—. A big aspect of our work at the foundation is testing community programmes and seeing what works, so they're not on the treatment end, but more on the prevention and support end. We've worked in Wales quite extensively with population groups, like single parents, refugees, older people—actually, with sporting teams as well. And we have found some common characteristics that these community programmes need to have to be successful. So, they need to be culturally adapted, so really respond to the needs of different people. As we said, finding people where they're at, and meeting people where they're at. So, if it's a football club, let's do something there, in the space that is familiar, and use that positive asset, essentially. So, that asset-based approach is really important as well.

All of our work takes a peer leadership approach, so essentially empowering people from that community to be leaders, to be peer supporters, to have more confidence in supporting each other in many ways. Connection as well is really important. We know that mental health problems worsen and trauma has a more severe impact when they're experienced in isolation. So, connection is really important. And I think specifically for Wales, what we have seen, which I mentioned earlier, the need for support in the Welsh language, for some communities, especially rural and in the north, and the need for—. Some of these things work very well for a football club, for a school—they're a very well-contained geographical area—but for people like farmers, who work very far from each other, but they see themselves potentially as a community, we need to think about transport links and how people can come together. As well there's digital literacy.

11:40

Very grateful for that answer. Andy, would you like to comment further?

Yes. I completely agree with everything that's just been said. I think, put simply, mental health is made in communities. We often think about mental health as being a deficit—you either have perfect mental health or you have mental illness. And, of course, the reality is much more complex than that, and good mental health is something you have to go out and make—it doesn't just happen in the absence of mental illness, if you like. And one of the things that we observe is that it's in communities where you create the conditions for people to have good mental health, when that community is a local area or a neighbourhood, whether it's a school, whether it's a digital community—whatever it is, that's where we protect and promote good mental health.

I think what we've observed is, first of all, that community-led organisations, ones that almost spontaneously are created by communities for themselves, are often where you see the most interesting and innovative things happening. So, rather than this being about Government, or local government, or football clubs, or anything trying to create initiatives and do things to people, actually harnessing the energy that's already there in a community and supporting and enabling that is really important. We still often see that funding, particularly charitable funding, is very, very difficult for community-led organisations to get access to. And very often, bigger charities tend to get a much larger share of funding than organisations that come from communities themselves. And yet we know that it's often at that level, that quite micro-level, where the really interesting stuff is happening.

But there are forms of allyship that we see. Some NHS mental health organisations, for example, work with local faith communities, to train up pastors or imams in some basic skills, to support mental health, which allows them to be ambassadors, if you like, and to provide some very low-level support. There are some great—. We published today a report about the Shifting the Dial project in Birmingham, which uses theatre workshops and mentoring. It's led by local community organisations—it's not done by us or any other big organisation. It comes from the community, and it has support from the local NHS trust, but actually it comes from, rather than being done to, and I think that's where you see great things. So, sometimes it's not about trying to scale things up, it's about trying to do things on the small scale, but making sure that there's that funding, whether it's grant funding, whether it's local government, which really allows those things to thrive and develop.

11:45

Thank you, Andy. And I suppose the Government's role in what you've both said would be to act as that enabler and perhaps it is the funding, then—the mechanism of funding needs to be much easier and much more accessible for these smaller groups. I can seen nodding on the screen and I can see nodding in front of me, so that's very useful for the committee.

Can I just touch, therefore, on social prescribing and whether you think there is a clear and shared understanding about what social prescribing actually is and whether there is an evidence base to support the roll-out of social prescribing as an effective intervention? I'll open it to the cameras and to you—whoever would like to go first.

I'm happy for Andy to go first.

Sure. I know that the foundation have been doing some work on this so you'll have some good knowledge. As observers, we would say that there is an increasingly compelling evidence base for the benefits of social prescribing. We know, for example, that proximity to nature, physical activity, other things that you can kind of support through social prescribing, are both good for mental health generally and can support people in their recovery and so support people to live well—those who are living with poor mental heath.You may know that people living with a long-term mental illness have life expectancy that is shockingly 15 to 20 years shorter than other people in society, which is about the biggest inequality in health you can have—having two decades lost of life. And, of course, social prescribing creates the opportunity for physical activity, which is one means by which you can support people to have better physical health.

Needless to say, social prescribing can't change the economic and social conditions people are living in, but it can very, very significantly help to mitigate those and, indeed, it can put people in charge of their own lives as well, and if you combine that, for example, with personal budgeting—people being able to choose how they spend their funding through the NHS or through social care—you've potentially got many more opportunities for people to have much more agency in their lives. It's not just about creating activities for people to go and do and having no choice, it's about having all the possible options, and it's about a sense of belonging as well—being part of a community.

I'll just briefly add the two big benefits that we're seeing of social prescribing: one is making such programmes, such community interventions, more accessible at a broader level; and the second is that they support—building on the back of the discussion we had earlier about the medical model—people struggling but also health and care staff to build a greater understanding of the influences on mental health and also what supports recovery.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. I assume you agree with these statements—if you don't, please tell me: I think we need to increase public awareness, increase understanding of mental health and well-being, increase help-seeking behaviour and create compassionate communities. Assuming you agree with that, how do we go about it?

I'm happy to start. We have been running Mental Health Awareness Week for over 20 years. What we have—. I do agree with the statement. I think such statements need nuance when we go more public with them, and I think what we have seen, which has made me concerned over the course of the past couple of years of the pandemic, is that starting the pandemic and including a conversation about mental health in it has been a first—we've never talked about mental health in previous pandemics. But as the pandemic went on, we started using mental health as an argument against other public health measures, so we shouldn't take public health measures because they're bad for mental health or whatever. So, I think, for me, mental health awareness needs to go much deeper than this and really start with the sentence that Andy used at the start, which is, 'Everyone can experience a mental health problem, but that risk is not distributed equally.' And this is a key point about mental health awareness and also the issues of people who are at the more extreme end of the spectrum of risk and the experiences that those people have.

So, for me, this is quite fundamental when talking about mental health awareness. Obviously, the UK as a whole has one of the largest mental health awareness weeks that exists anywhere in the world, and this is a big opportunity every year to campaign, to share, to talk and really to move towards action. But I think a lot of that nuance of mental health awareness is coming more locally, is coming from within, is coming from and often led by mental health activists, people with lived experience, family experience, and, for me, a first step is to start empowering those activists more, because I think whenever we've seen change, social change, it's often led by the people who really have a stake—empowering people who have a stake in that change.

11:50

I'd only add to that that, actually, thanks to the Mental Health Foundation and others, we've probably got more mental health awareness than we've ever had right now, and that's come over many, many years, and often a lot of struggle has gone on behind that, and a lot of very, very hard work. In a sense, the challenge now is about turning that awareness into literacy and action, and mental health literacy is incredibly important. Often, we find when we're looking at the experiences of children and families, parents understand about mental health and about the importance of their children's mental health, but they don't necessarily have the tools to know how to support that in the best way that they'd like to be able to. So, there is something about turning from awareness to literacy. 

I think the other thing is that mental health, of course, isn't a single, homogenous block. There are lots of different experiences of mental health and mental ill health, and there are certainly some groups of people who experience shocking levels of discrimination—actual discrimination and stigmatising treatment. Particularly, I think, we've heard a lot recently about the experiences of people who are diagnosed with a personality disorder, for example, sometimes known as complex emotional needs, and what we've seen from the experiences of people given those diagnoses, which are very controversial in themselves, are that, actually, the treatment they get from health professionals is extremely negative and is blaming them for their own difficulties—very, very poor access to support and a very opposite-to-compassionate approach. So, again, we need to make sure we're understanding the full range of experiences of mental health and illness, and tailoring action to ensure that we're tackling stigma, including from the mental health system itself.

One final question from me. How do we engage groups of people who do not see mental health services as designed or suitable for them? I'm thinking especially of working-class men who are relatively young and who are at higher risk of suicide than almost any other group. They don't seem to think that there's anything wrong with their mental health. How do we get through to them? It's that sort of male culture that is not beneficial to improving mental health.

I'm happy to have a first go at this, and then, Antonis, I'll let you come in. I think, first and fundamentally, mental health services work best if they're designed in partnership with the people they're designed to help, and very often, particularly with—. The most resistant to help-seeking, if you like, or the least help-seeking group in society is young adults, so people in their teenage years and early 20s, which is often when we see the onset of quite significant mental health difficulties. And the problem is that we tend to see services that just put their hands on their hips and say, 'Why don't they engage with us? They don't come through the door, or people do come through the door and they don't like the offer that's there and they don't come back.' The answer to that is not just to shout louder or to encourage people to come in; it's actually to change the offer. So, if the offer isn't working for a group of people, it's not the right offer. Again, looking at the work we've been doing with young black men in Birmingham, they're not interested in the traditional kind of 'go to your GP, get a referral, go to a mental health service' type model. They want support that is very different to that, which actually kind of builds their sense of community and belonging—it uses very different ways of providing support and promoting good mental health. And so, I think, with any group that's getting a poorer experience and not getting help, we've got to change the nature of the help, not just shout louder.

11:55

Can I just follow on from that? I think that we—men in general, and, as I say, working-class men—need to be more sympathetic to our friends and colleagues as well, and that everything isn't a potential for a joke; we've actually got to relate to the problems our friends are having. How do we get working-class men like me to do that?

I think you've just described what a trauma-informed approach is, essentially—so, being more sympathetic and relating to the problems someone else is experiencing. Building on what we said earlier, both Andy and I, the way to do this is essentially to work with men—so, design services or campaigns or programmes or policies within organisations or whatever else it may be, and work with the people who will be the beneficiaries. And I think it's the same at this early stage of what you were mentioning around talking to each other and asking for that support and relating to the problems that others are having. If we built those campaigns, those programmes together with people instead of doing things to people, then we have a much greater chance of success.

There's no escaping the fact that mental health has been misunderstood, mistreated, misdiagnosed for centuries, so there's a lot of catching up and we're constantly catching up, and there's a big deficit that exists in mental health that maybe does not exist in the same way in other areas, even though we've seen stigma in other areas of health. So, addressing stigma is still very much part of the picture, especially for identifying those early problems, and also for people living with severe and enduring mental illness.

Thanks, Mike. I was just considering yesterday, or in the Senedd yesterday, I talked about a group that had been set up in my area, which I represent, of men just meeting and going for a walk and talking, and it's not set up—. Those involved have come from professional backgrounds, but it's not set up in any particularly structured way; it's just we meet and talk and chat. I'm just wondering to what extent—we talk about programmes and interventions—it's just a case of us all, and society, changing to make us all a lot more willing to be able to talk to each other in a very normalised way and to make this a very normal part of life.

I think this is fundamental. It's essentially what we were discussing earlier around understanding the basic needs that we have as human beings. I'm glad that these groups exist and, for many of us, these are the most kind of protective things that we have in our lives for our well-being and our mental health; the issue being that there are people who don't have access to such informal groups of whatever. So, not everything has to be an intervention, not everything has to be a public health programme or whatever else. And I think, within communities with assets like these—we would probably call these 'assets', if you like—it's about building on those, creating those opportunities. So, if peer-to-peer, colleague support is important within an organisation, then the organisation can enable it by giving flexible hours, or good lunch breaks or creating communal spaces in the kitchen for people to eat together, as an example. Or if people join football teams as a way of socialising and looking after each other in ways that are very informal, then let's make joining such groups very accessible. So, it's about enabling that, not necessarily turning everything into an intervention, I agree.

Yes, interesting. Thank you. I can see Andy Bell nodding as well at that in agreement. Joyce Watson.

12:00

I just, with your allowance, Chair, want to tease out something that you touched on earlier, and there are two things together here. We talk about neurodivergent conditions and people therefore having labels as a consequence, and I just want to explore how much that is seen as the problem—that people have a condition—rather than the fact that, yes, they have a condition that is causing them to have some mental health issues as well as a consequence of dealing with that condition. Because you did talk about the horrendous treatment that's very often given to people as a consequence of having a condition. I just wanted to briefly explore that—whether you want to write to us or say something now.

I'm happy to say something brief—or Andy.

I actually really agree. We, I think, historically, have made such diagnoses of such conditions equivalent to a mental health problem. We have started making some progress from this attitude, but, in fact, what we have seen is people that have those identities, experiences or conditions have very different treatment—they receive much different treatment from society, from different structures. They don't have access to the same tools, if you like, to the same opportunities and, in many ways, they're systematically missing those benefits that exist within our society that are available to others. So, I do agree with you, and I think it's really important that we shift the conversation to understand what people need and how we can enable them and empower them to have that, instead of seeing everything as a mental health problem, when we are, in many ways, causing that.

I'll move on now to what they were expecting me to ask, and that was about the strategy for mental health. You've answered, of course, moving on from it being just a healthcare issue. I want to ask in terms of Government and organisations just seeing it sitting in health, rather than it being everybody's job to take note of it and have a truly cross-sector, cross-Government approach. What recommendations would you make to Government to make that happen?

So, what does Government need to do to make that happen?

Shall I go first this time?

There's so much to say here, so I'll try and keep it brief. I think the first thing is Government should set a clear ambition to reduce mental health inequality, and that's both improving mental health for all, for the whole population, but also reducing the gap in terms of what we see. And so, first of all, I think having a clear strategic goal to reduce the inequality and the inequities that lead to it would be a very powerful thing for Government to do. I think, secondly, it's then recognising that every single department in Government, every single part of Government, every decision made, has an effect on people's mental health one way or another. And so, decisions made by Government can both be very protective of good mental health and support people with mental health difficulties to live better, or they can cause significant harm—so, everything from setting budgets and what you decide to put money into, through to the ways in which different Government departments are prioritised, how schools work, how prisons work. All of these things will have a mental health impact one way or another. So, again, the crucial thing here is to do that consciously. And we've seen both at very local and national level, if you have a mental-health-in-all-policies approach, then you seek to ensure that every policy you put out, every decision you make, seeks to benefit mental health, reduce inequalities and improve the lives of people living with mental illness. And if you do that really deliberately and explicitly, then you start to change the game, and you start to change the way decisions get made and then we can really start to make some progress.

12:05

Just to give you my thoughts—and I do agree with Andy—in our recent research, we found that mental health problems cost the Wales economy £4.8 billion—I should say at least £4.8 billion—per year. About a third of that cost comes from economic inactivity, about a third of that cost is related to informal carers and what they're caring, essentially, for the systems. No more than 15 per cent of that cost is health and social care costs.

So, I think it's really important to really build on what you said and think about how a mental health strategy really needs to go beyond health and care. So, a few points on this. The previous mental health strategy in Wales was obviously before the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Again, I would say, for those of us who interact internationally with colleagues, Wales, again, is a pioneer, really, internationally, in having an Act like this. So, I think the new mental health strategy should really align itself with this piece of legislation and I would expect that it does. I think it's important to see, and I'm very encouraged that you're all very aware of this issue—. We would need to see a cross-Government plan that addresses health inequalities. And for this to happen, we would need to have some proper consultation with lived experience, I would say, of inequality, so we do have—. And I think Wales has done that really well—I know that there's a forum of people experiencing mental illness—but sometimes we need to go beyond that, especially in thinking about prevention and community, the topics raised today, we need to speak to people who experience inequality and not necessarily have had a diagnosis, if you like. I think that there are, potentially, some blind spots at the moment around the mental health of older people and the mental health of women and their gendered experiences of inequality and mental health compared to men, and also that of rural communities, and thinking about the professional community, as well, like farming and fishing communities. So, that would be great, I think, if that could be considered within the strategy.

We are involved at the moment in looking, alongside your colleagues, at the impact of previous strategies and evaluating those. So, building a strategy, I would encourage, from early on, to really consider what are the metrics, what are the outcomes, how would you like to evaluate its impact when that period is over, and we have seen some good approaches to doing that, sometimes using proxies and data that are not necessarily there for that purpose. But there are national data sets, there are local data sets, that could be used as proxies. So, really consider that impact evaluation.

Thank you. A final question from me is: are there other countries that have an approach that we could learn something from?

Yes. I would say—. I'll start with acknowledging, again, how much of a leader Wales is, including, for example, at the moment, being a nation of sanctuary. For me, Wales adds pressure to Westminster and others on such approaches and really important issues related to mental health. The most direct example I can think of is the trauma-informed approaches that have been piloted in Scotland, and that would be good, fertile ground to consider how this could be implemented in Wales. But, otherwise, we're happy to investigate and give you some suggestions at a later time.

Thank you, Joyce. A question from me, I suppose, just to ask you for your advice—to both of you—in terms of the rest of our inquiry. We've had a huge response to this inquiry; we've had over 90 responses. And I think I should put on record our thanks, really, to all those who have responded to our call for evidence, and we've undertaken some focus groups as well—so, many people contributing towards this piece of work, so I'd just put on the record our thanks to all those that have taken part and provided us with evidence. But, in terms of the remaining part of our inquiry, as we go beyond the Easter period into the summer, we continue with our inquiry, are there any areas you think that we need to particularly be focusing on when we're looking at inequalities within mental health?

12:10

Yes. I'm happy to go first. For me, this point about consultation is important—so, who are you speaking to. I think Andy and I represent a specific, maybe, profile of national charities that really look into this issue maybe from a very professional point of view. I think speaking to grass-roots organisations, maybe some of them have not responded to the inquiry, so perhaps engaging in different ways, and I know you're doing focus groups. So, I would add that aspect of the lived experience of inequality, not necessarily based on diagnosis.

And I would say, to kind of maintain this momentum, sometimes addressing those issues, and as clients work through those issues, we are drawn into false dichotomies: we either have to try to change some of the structural stuff, and this is too big, or we have to empower people to do certain things, and this will have a very small impact. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. We have to look at those issues. They are complex and big issues, and, actually, quite common, and we have to look at them across the whole aspect of Welsh society.

Thank you Dr Kousoulis. And to Andy Bell, where next for our inquiry? What do you think should be our focus for the next phase of our work?

Mostly what he just said. I think that's absolutely right. I think there is no improvement on actually talking to people in groups and communities that are on the wrong end of mental health inequalities, understanding their perspectives—probably in a very different environment to one like this, where that can naturally come out and you can understand. I think there are a lot of narratives that have been produced about mental health inequalities that are very useful, because not everyone communicates in the same very formal way, and often you can get a lot from understanding lived experience and the journeys that people have gone on and their perspectives on those journeys. So, I think there is nothing like that.

I think also there are often hidden inequalities, and I think Antonis mentioned later life. Mental health inequalities among older people are often neglected, hidden, not talked about, and the extent is just as great there as it is for other age groups. And really think, I guess, about the resources that the Welsh Government has at its disposal to improve mental health, to go a different way, perhaps, from other parts of the UK, to build on the achievements that have already been made in schools and to really look at how that can become the beginning of something really special. The whole-school approach, for example, is often something that people talk about and use the language, but do we know they're really doing it, and do we know that that's really happening, and is that having an effect on the really pointy end when we're looking at things like behaviour? And so I think going from rhetoric to reality is incredibly important. And, clearly, there's still an enormous opportunity to be really innovative and to do this in a really systemic way rather than just doing it round the edges.

Thank you. Thanks, both, for your advice in helping us with the rest of our inquiry. That's really much appreciated, and it was a fascinating session to help us go forward with our piece of work. So, can I thank you both as well for your written evidence as well? Very much appreciated. We'll send you a copy of the transcript of this morning's session, but, by all means, if you do follow the inquiry and the committee's work and you have further thoughts, then please, absolutely, let us know during the course of the work. So, thank you both again for your time this morning. So, diolch yn fawr iawn. There we are.

Thank you very much.

And that brings us to close the session, and we will be back at 1 o'clock when we'll have our next panel in regards to our inquiry on inequalities in mental health.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 12:14 ac 13:03.

The meeting adjourned between 12:14 and 13:03.

13:00
6. Anghydraddoldebau iechyd meddwl: sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda Chomisiynydd Plant Cymru a Chomisiynydd Pobl Hŷn Cymru
6. Mental health inequalities: evidence session with the Children's Commissioner for Wales and the Older People's Commissioner for Wales

Welcome back to the Health and Social Care Committee. I move to item 6, and this is our second panel today of our inquiry into mental health inequalities, and we have a number of witnesses to help us in this next part of our inquiry for today's session. I'd just be ever so grateful if you could introduce yourselves for the public record.

I'm Sally Holland. I'm the Children's Commissioner for Wales.

Kirrin Spiby-Davidson, I'm a policy adviser to the children's commissioner.

I'm Heléna Herklots, the Older People's Commissioner for Wales.

Lovely. Thanks ever so much for being with us today. Just as a bit of scene setting at the beginning of this session, it might be helpful if each of you, respectively, talk about how mental health inequalities affect people in the various age ranges that you represent and different areas. Who would like to go first? There we are. I'll come to you then, Sally. Thank you.

Professor Sally Holland 13:04:24