MAUREEN Watt has addressed the Scottish Parliament as the country's first dedicated Mental Health Minister and promised investment and action will be at the heart of a new 10-year strategy to "transform mental health care in Scotland".

In her maiden Holyrood speech as the new Minister for Mental Health, Ms Watt also stressed the importance of early intervention for people with mental ill health and recognised the need for parity between physical and mental halth.

Ms Watt was speaking during a lively, passionate debate about the health service, in response to a motion entitled 'Taking Scotland Forward - Delivering a Healthier Scotland' tabled by Health Secretary Shona Robison. 

The motion, which was carried by 89 votes to 35, included agreement to a "robust consultation process to help develop a new 10-year mental health strategy that cements the parity of status between mental and physical health."

Ms Watt (pictured below) began by paying tribute to the work of her predecessor in the previous Scottish Government, Jamie Hepburn, who was the first minister to have mental health in his job title. 

I will continue our focus on improving access to support and treatment for people with mental health problems when they need it—in primary care and in more specialist services

She told the chamber: "I am extremely proud to be appointed Scotland’s first dedicated mental health minister—the first in the UK. 

"This Parliament has a proud history of highlighting mental health—it has debated it frequently. Last year we passed the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 2015, which updates the legislation to allow service users with a mental health disorder to access effective treatment quickly and easily, and contains measures to enhance service users’ rights and to promote their involvement in their treatment.

"I hope that we continue to work across the chamber to build on the progress we have made and to ensure that, when we think and talk about health, we treat our mental health just as we would our physical health. We have talked about parity of mental health and physical health, which is hard to describe or measure.

"I will set out the key areas where I want to see change to achieve that parity.

"We are already investing an additional £150 million in mental health over five years to support the shift. In our manifesto, we said that we would work with mental health charities, stakeholders and service users to put in place a 10-year plan to transform mental health care in Scotland, including for children and young people.

"Over the past few months, we have engaged with stakeholders, including people who use mental health services, carers, service providers and professional bodies. The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) also hosted engagement events.

"That engagement was to inform what our priorities will be in the new strategy. I intend to publish an outline strategy for wider engagement in the next few weeks, and the final strategy will be published later this year.

"The engagement is important to ensure that our strategic direction and ambition for the next decade focuses on the things that people agree are most important. We are also taking action right now to build on progress already made and to remove barriers.

"I will continue our focus on improving access to support and treatment for people with mental health problems when they need it—in primary care and in more specialist services."

Ms Watt added: "Improving access to services is important, but we can make an even bigger difference if we prevent problems from developing in the first place and intervene as early as possible when problems emerge. The early years is when we have the best opportunity to improve long-term mental health, and I want a concerted effort to be made on doing the things that the evidence tells us will be most effective."

Earlier in the debate, Monica Lennon (Labour, pictured below), highlighted waiting times for child and adolescent mental health services and psychological therapies, saying " too many vulnerable patients are being badly let down.".

“Too many vulnerable patients are being badly let down

She said: "Members will recall that the now-retired Dr Richard Simpson MSP, a psychiatrist with more than 20 years’ experience, pointed out that the longer young people with mental health problems wait for treatment, the worse their conditions get. The waiting is not some sort of inconvenience; there is a genuine argument that it worsens their condition.

"The number of patients, especially children, who are waiting longer for mental health treatment than they should have to is simply unacceptable."

On the subject of health inequalities, she added: "Health inequalities are not just about health services or about lifestyle and behaviour; they are about justice. Although mental health issues hit all genders, ages and socio-economic groups, the incidence is three times greater in areas of socio-economic deprivation. Our mental health service is still too narrowly focused on the acute side of care rather than on prevention.

"We need to ensure that our NHS, which was established in the 1940s, is fit for the challenges of the 2040s. That means treating mental health every bit as seriously as physical health. It is essential that the mental health strategy is informed by an evaluation of the 2015 strategy. A transformative approach to mental health requires a long-term vision supported by sustained investment."

I hope that mental health is one area in which we have genuine political consensus

Miles Briggs (Conservative, above) said welcome steps have been taken to tackle the stigma of mental health in recent years, but he called on the Parliament to "take real action to make Scotland a country that delivers a focused and improved service for those who need help."

Mr Briggs added: "I welcome Maureen Watt to her position as the Scottish Government’s dedicated Minister for Mental Health and look forward to working with her to build a lasting mental health strategy for our country.

"I have known Maureen Watt for many years and have seen at first hand her quiet determination to get results on a number of issues. I hope that mental health is one area in which we have genuine political consensus."

One in four of us will suffer from mental ill-health, but only 5.8 per cent of UK research funding is spent on mental health research.

Alison Johnstone (Greens, above) supprorted a focus on early intervention instead of simply treating the symptoms of ill-health. She added: "Of course, good health is hugely dependent on many factors outwith the NHS, such as a living wage, secure and affordable housing, affordable heat and nutritious food. One in four of us will suffer from mental ill-health, but only 5.8 per cent of UK research funding is spent on mental health research.

"We know that mental ill-health is three times greater in areas of socioeconomic deprivation where access to general healthcare is too often too challenging."

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Lib-Dems, pictured below) spoke of the pressures faced by GP surgeries and highlighted the stark statistics of high suicide rates in Scotland connected to mental ill health - an issue he had seen first-hand when he witnessed a man taking his own life.

“A quarter of appointments in our GP surgeries are used by people who have underlying mental health conditions

He said: "Ask any doctor, and they will say that a quarter of surgery appointments in our GP surgeries are used by people who have underlying mental health conditions. They demand far more attention from our doctors than they currently receive from our health board funders, but in percentage terms, that funding is dropping.

"Last year, I was walking through the centre of Edinburgh when, very sadly, a man took his own life and died on the pavement beside me. I was the first responder at the scene and I had an ambulance there 90 seconds later. That 90-second response came at a time when his primary care needs were absolutely nil.

"However, if he had walked into a GP surgery when he had begun to feel unwell, he could have expected to wait at least nine months for the kind of care that he needed. He was 41 years old and, sadly, joins the ranks of such men—among men under the age of 50 suicide is the leading cause of death.

"Some 700 people in Scotland a year take their own lives—almost equivalent to the number of people who die from breast cancer.

"Investment in mental health will help our hard-pressed and overworked GPs, but it must also be seen as a pan-departmental issue. It is an economic issue, with 643,000 working days being lost every year due to depression.

"It is criminal justice issue, with many public acts of disturbance being caused by people who have underlying mental health issues. It is also a childhood issue. The fact that six health boards have today announced that they have missed their own targets is a national disgrace. We must double the spending on CAMHS. That is the challenge that is before us."

You can read the entire the full official report of the debate and business in the Parliament (7 June, 2016) by clicking HERE

The motion, as passed, was:

Taking Scotland Forward - Delivering a Healthier Scotland

That the Parliament agrees that the NHS is the country’s most cherished public service and must remain free at the point of need and be publicly owned, funded and operated; further agrees that health and care services must continually evolve, including delivering the benefits of integration; recognises that meeting these challenges necessitates working in partnership across the health sector and the Parliament; believes that primary, community and social care and mental health should all receive an increasing share of the NHS budget each year to ensure that as many people as possible can lead fulfilling, independent lives; considers that health resource funding should increase above inflation every year, with the aim of being £500 million higher than real terms only increases by the end of this parliamentary session; supports a robust consultation process to help develop a new 10-year mental health strategy that cements the parity of status between mental and physical health; notes that the changes to the welfare system being put in place by the UK Government are exacerbating inequalities and putting more pressure on the NHS; considers that health inequalities will require an approach that looks beyond the NHS and that roots activity to address inequalities across government; agrees that the real living wage can help in addressing these inequalities; believes that it would be totally unacceptable if the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or any other trade agreement, were to go ahead without explicit protection for the NHS and public services on the face of the agreement, and calls on the UK Government to demand that this be included.