James Sunderland raises the importance of mental health support for people with skin conditions

James Sunderland raises the importance of mental health support for people with skin conditions and calls on the Government to review spending on dermatology, ensure important face-to-face appointments are available to those who need them, and increase the range of psychological support.

James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I want to talk about mental health support for those with skin conditions, which is something that is often forgotten about by health providers across the UK and beyond. That is surprising, because 60% of British people currently suffer or have suffered from skin conditions at some point in their life. Those figures are comparable with cancer—it is a much bigger problem than we recognise. Some 98% of skin disease patients currently report that their condition affects their emotional and psychological wellbeing, yet only 18% have received any form of psychological support. That is a dichotomy that I want to explore very briefly—notwithstanding my sore voice, for which I am very sorry.

A key reason why support for these conditions is so important is that recent studies have proven that there has been an increase in psychological distress, and in the last two years in particular. That applies in particular to adults over 18 and children aged between six and 16. For over-18-year-olds, there has been an increase of distress from 20.8% in 2019 to 24.4% in March 2021. That in my view is a reflection of the pandemic, from which we have all suffered.

A study of adults over 18 also found that 26.1% of respondents reported self-harm thoughts at least once between March 2020 and May 2021. That is a hidden danger that we must all be aware of. It is even worse for those who are a bit younger. Among children aged six to 16, 39.2% have experienced some kind of deterioration in mental health since 2017—no doubt as a result of schools being closed and the isolation we all suffered from during the pandemic. For me, this debate is about the hidden dangers of the pandemic and the mental health cost on individuals.

That is made worse as young people emerge from the pandemic and their hibernation. How do they look? How do they feel? How low or high is their confidence? What about not having been in the sun for the last couple of years for those living in high-rise blocks in London and inner cities? What about skin conditions, such as acne? What about not going to school at that key age as a teenager? What about the lack of confidence that comes from having a skin condition? I want to raise these questions today. We can easily acknowledge the problem, but the solution is much more difficult.

Having discussed mental health, I want to move on to dermatology. The number of eczema sufferers in the UK has been steadily rising for the last 10 years. It stands currently at 1.3 million people. Interestingly, eczema is diagnosed much earlier. In around 90% of cases, it is children below the age of five. Psoriasis is much more of a problem for people that are slightly older. The prevalence of psoriasis in the UK today is a similar figure, at about 1 million to 1.3 million people. I am very familiar with it myself. Psoriasis is a problem that can affect how people look, and it is just one of many skin conditions, as we heard earlier from my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). It is part of the whole panoply of skin issues that affect people so badly.

So what can we do? I want to raise three key points with the Minister. We need to improve the support for all those with skin conditions. We need to focus on the link between dermatology and mental health. First, I want to call on the Government to review their spending on dermatology to enable clinics to provide specialist mental health support for children and young people who suffer from skin problems. As we heard earlier, that may break the link between skin issues and mental health, which people are increasingly suffering from.

Secondly, we should ensure that, whenever possible, face-to-face appointments are available to those who need them. That is really important. It is about human contact and touch. A Zoom call with a doctor is fine, if people can get an appointment, but it does not recognise the problem. The doctor cannot see it nor feel it. That, for me, is very important.

Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)

The hon. Gentleman is giving an excellent speech. I, too, pay tribute the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). This is such an important issue. I have been contacted by a constituent of mine called Margaret who is a lifelong sufferer of psoriasis. To judge from his opening speech, I think that much of what she said in her email to me would be very familiar to the right hon. Member for Gainsborough. Does the hon. Member for Bracknell agree with me about the importance of first contact with the doctor and how important it is that sufferers of all kinds of skin conditions can feel confident about reaching out to their doctor? As the hon. Gentleman says, face-to-face contact is so important. I also want to emphasise to anyone, anywhere, who might be suffering from a skin condition that help is available and they should not hesitate to seek it.

James Sunderland 

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention; I could not agree more. The simple answer is that doctors cannot see anything on a Zoom call. Also, people need to be able to see a doctor to get a prescription. If someone has a skin condition, they cannot just go to the chemist to get a prescription. They have to get an appointment first in order to get the prescription, and that is where face-to-face appointments come into it.

My third point is that we need to increase the range of psychological support for all those who need it. That is part of the panoply of health support that we need. A 2014 study showed that 94% of the patients who had completed psychodermatology treatment reported reduced stress, 92% reported increased confidence, and 90% reported that their skin condition was better understood. Wow. Those figures are amazing, but if someone asks for that treatment at this point in time, it takes up to a year for a referral, which is worrying.

I want to commend the excellent services locally in my constituency. The Frimley integrated care system is one of the best in the country, if not the best. The treatment that I have had personally has been pretty good, notwithstanding the delay that we are all suffering form. Lastly, I ask the Minister to reinvest accordingly in this very important area so that young people and adults are not suffering.