As Berkshire’s year of mental health draws to a close this month, Brighter Berkshire asked me for a review of what the year has meant to me. This is just some of the highlights.


My involvement with Brighter Berkshire began with the planning session at Newbury Rugby Club. I posted my contribution on my website, fired off emails to all my Berkshire MP colleagues urging them to get involved and spoke about the campaign on the Anne Diamond show – the start of an amazing commitment by BBC Radio Berkshire which lasted all year and hopefully will continue.

On January 9 the PM made a keynote speech to the Charity Commission which set out a comprehensive package of reforms to improve mental health support at every stage of a person’s life. She talked about parity and announced new support for mental health in schools and in the workplace. A good prelude to the launch of Brighter Berkshire on Blue Monday when I was interviewed by Polly, Angela and Nicky on the first Talking Heads show. Their monthly programme was to run all year and has been continually inspiring and moving.


I raised Brighter Berkshire at Prime Minister’s Questions and was delighted to hear the PM’s supportive response. And a Westminster Hall debate on private renting solutions for homeless and vulnerable people gave me the chance to highlight the obvious connection with mental health: ‘Mental health problems can cause homelessness and homelessness can cause mental health problems’.


Delighted to see the partnership launched between Brighter Berkshire and the Berkshire Community Foundation. As well as helping with fundraising this will provide a platform for Brighter Berkshire to continue on beyond 2017. I spoke at the day organised by Thatcham Vision for senior citizens addressing the issues that face the elderly; top of the list is loneliness and isolation – mental health issues are a lifelong challenge. On to Newbury to open the newly refurbished centre for the Samaritans which will help them deliver their vital service in our area. I spoke at the West Berkshire Health & Wellbeing Board on mental health. This is where moves to change can take place and where I can get a sense of how things are working on the ground.


I was at the first meeting of the Suicide Prevention Action Group in the Town Hall in Newbury. The Berkshire Suicide Audit for 2012-2014 included 120 deaths, 70% of which were classified as suicide by the Coroner and the other 30% were undetermined or open verdicts. There’s a lot to do and it was good to see this group taking shape. The Government announces the biggest change to the law on mental health treatment in over three decades, tackling discrimination and the overuse of detention, protecting those suffering from discrimination at work, and investing in 10,000 more NHS mental health staff by 2020.


I attended the APPG on Mental Health which gave me an insight into the use of the NHS England Mental Health Five Year Forward View Dashboard, a tool which monitors progress against delivery. It is updated every quarter and will mean I can continue to keep informed about mental health services in the constituency and identify local issues to raise with our CCG. The APPG is also doing good work looking at reform of the Mental Health Act, supported housing and the upcoming Green Paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health.


Good to hear the Government pledge to recruit 21,000 new mental health workers in England and to spend £1.3billion to treat an extra one million people by 2021. Mind held a Parliamentary reception at Westminster, a useful look at the campaigning work of this excellent charity. A week later, I visited Prospect Park Hospital which, although not in my constituency, is where critically ill people from West Berkshire are treated. With Ali Foster, I saw round three of the wards and met patients, staff and managers. It gave me an insight into the patient experience and useful contacts for raising constituents’ issues in the future.


Excellent feedback from the Suicide Prevention Training workshop at Shaw House. If each attendee cascades this training to their own colleagues it will reach well over 11,000 employees. A great achievement by Garry Poulson and his team. It was also good to hear about the launch of the Berkshire Suicide Prevention Strategy which has come together thanks to the hard work of all agencies across the county – lots of useful action points and a real sense of commitment to a zero suicide aspiration for Berkshire. Happy to put my name to Conservatives for Mental Health at Westminster, a new campaign group set up to share ideas and promote better support for mental health in our constituencies. It prompted me to write to the head of CAMHS about waiting times as different people report different experiences.


A privilege to sit in on a session of the Emotional Health Academy in Newbury, hearing how it is successfully providing early intervention and targeted help for our children and young people. A response from CAMHS about waiting times which in themselves are not bad with one ‘point of entry’ but the answer to my question whether waiting times are reducing is negative; there is clearly more to be done. Back to the Health & Wellbeing Board for an update regarding the action plan for mental health in West Berkshire.


The Green Paper on Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision sets out proposals for earlier intervention with, amongst other things, senior leads for mental health to be trained in every school and college, new Mental Health Support Teams to be put in place around schools and colleges and a pilot for a four-week waiting time standard for access to children and young people’s mental health services. I hope everyone will respond to the consultation here.

Discussing plans with Ali for a Brighter Berkshire end of year event in January – a finale to an amazing year and the start of the next? This year has taught me so much about mental health – hearing people talk about their own experiences, learning from the professionals I’ve met, understanding more about the support that is out there and more about what is still needed – ‘grass-roots’ knowledge that will help me continue to engage with mental health policy both locally and nationally. Long term improvements need to be brave, non-partisan and evidence-based. Brighter Berkshire has shown how communities can come together from across the spectrum to work for change. It is an initiative that should be rolled out across the country.