David Cameron Discusses Ritalin
Kate Garraway: The leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron is here with us now. So what are your worries about Ritalin?
David Cameron: Well for many parents with children with ADHD, it is the right drug and its right that they get it, and if it helps them, that’s absolutely right, but I think there is a concern that the prescription of it has gone up so fast, (156% as your film shows). We’re asking for a review because we just want to find out more about the possible side effects, the possible damages and also to ask the question ‘Are there other things that we should be doing as well, to help with these families and with these children?’
Today we’re launching the report of our Special Needs Commission to say ‘Why are we closing all these special schools? Shouldn’t we be keeping them open? Shouldn’t we give parents greater choices for their children? And shouldn’t we be trying to intervene earlier and more helpfully with children who have behavioural difficulties?’
KG: OK, a lot of questions there. Two questions for you. The Attention Deficit Information Service – it’s not a snappy title – but they say your figures are wrong. You’re talking about 410,000 prescriptions with the implication that’s 410,000 children, but actually each child has 12 prescriptions. It’s not as bad as you say and you’re scare-mongering.
DC: No, absolutely not, and we say in our briefing notes that the number of children is fewer. It’s quite difficult to get to the actual figure for the number of children and that’s another reason for having a proper look at this, but our figures are all based on published information. Let me just repeat again, we’re not saying that this drug should be withdrawn.
For many parents, as your film shows, it’s an absolute life line and I know, as a parent of a Special Needs child, that drugs are incredibly important. But we should be asking as a country, ‘Are we doing enough to help parents and children of Special Needs?’ My answer is ‘No we are not’. A statementing process that you go through, is a complete nightmare.
If you have a child with Special Needs, the doors should be thrown open to you for all the things you need. Instead, they’re slammed shut and you have to fight your way through. That’s not right, that has to change.
KG: OK, how does it change then? Talking to GPs, one of the reasons why they think there has been on occasion some increase in Ritalin, is that it’s devilishly difficult to get to see– as you’re saying – to get to see the psychiatrist, to get other diagnosis, to get other help for it. The reason why it’s difficult is money.
DC: It isn’t just money. I think one of the biggest problems is this. Today, if you have a child with severe Special Needs and you need an educational statement of Special Needs, the local council is responsible for drawing up the statement and for providing all the services. That’s why it becomes such a nightmare process.
Our report today says ‘Separate the process. Have independent experts drawing up your statement of Special Needs, and then the council has to provide the services’. And also, put the parents in the driving seat.
KG: Isn’t that in place because they’re in charge of the budgets and they’re in charge of the funding? Because they’re managing the money? Whoever’s doing it, they’re going to have to be balancing the books. Are you going to put more money there for this to happen?
DC: Well there’s a lot of money there already. Clearly this is an area where if we’re going to get education right, money is required. But at the moment there are some councils that spend £14,000 on the process of drawing up the statement. That’s money that ought to be spent on provisions.
KG: And you’re confident that it would be simpler?
DC: Much simpler because you have an independent assessor drawing up the statement of needs. And then give the parents choice, because many parents find that they’re just simply not offered the option of a special school or a mainstream school. We’ve lost 146 special schools over the last decade. There are many thousand fewer spaces in special schools. We think that’s wrong, we think we should stop the closure of special schools, have a proper review, put forward the suggestions we’re making and then give the parents the choice.
I have a friend who runs a special school for children with behavioural difficulties and he says to me, ‘If only I got these children earlier. If only I’d got them aged 5 or 6 rather than 8, 9, 10, 11, I could do so much more to turn around their problems and address their needs.
We’re leaving too many children languishing in mainstream schools where they’re falling behind and their problems are getting worse rather than intervening and recognising that for some children special schools are very important.
KG: OK, so that’s what you would like to see changed?
DC: Absolutely. Moratorium on the closing of special schools, complete change on the way the statementing process is done, put the parents in the driving seat. A report that I commissioned over 2 years ago when I was Shadow Secretary of State for Education, a really serious piece of work that engaged with parents, teachers of special schools up and down the country and I think it really does point the way forward, to make sure we do more for what are some of the most vulnerable children in our country.
KG: I know a lot of parents will be interested in what you say about this because we’ve had a huge reaction both for and against Ritalin whenever it’s mentioned on the programme. I can tell that you’re relishing having the chance to talk about this, because last week was a tough week for you wasn’t it? You were having to deal with critics both in and outside of your party. It must be great to get back to some issues.
I often wonder how tough it is when you have a situation where people are talking about you being behind in the polls, you’ve been criticised things you did like your trip to Rwanda. How hard is it to stay focused and not think ‘Crikey, I made a muck up there?’ How do you know to keep going? Is it blind faith?
DC: Because in my position, what I want to do, is put forward the very best alternatives to this Government, to point out what’s going wrong in our country and how we put it right. That’s my overwhelming focus and so for instance today…
KG: How to get the focus though? Isn’t there a bit of you that thought ‘Why the heck did I go to Rwanda when my constituents are knee deep in water?’ I mean I go home and think ‘Why did I say that?’ all the time. Wasn’t there a bit of you that thought ‘That was a mistake’?
DC: Obviously it’s difficult decision. I was in my constituency last Saturday and Sunday, I saw the floods for myself, I was back there on Wednesday. It was a difficult decision but I think it was the right one.
DC: Well because I think we are concerned in this country with immigration and mass migration, concerned about terrorism, concerned about climate change, there is a huge link between what is happening here and what is happening in Africa. And we do need politicians who understand what is going on in Africa and the source of some of the problems that we face. I think it’s important in politics to stick to your course and to make sure that you go ahead with the things that you think matter.
KG: Is there a bit of you that thinks – as even some of your own party are saying – that there is too much focus on climate change, there’s too much focus on things abroad, what people care about is water in their taps, crime and the issues at home?
DC: Of course and you have to get the balance right. At the end of last week, I was in Upton-On-Severn, I’ve been in Gloucester in Tewkesbury. I went to Hull as well and they’re in the clear-up phase and there are real lessons to be learned about how councils do the clean-up operation and what we do to help homes that aren’t insured. So I have been very focused on those issues as well. The other thing of course that happened last week, is that the Conservative party launched two very big policy review booklets. One on global poverty – vital for the future of us here as well as in Africa – and also on stronger defence and strengthening armed forces and making sure that we really look after National Security.
KG: But it all got swamped (no pun intended) by the fact that you were in Rwanda. That’s the problem isn’t it? You’re trying to tackle things from your perspective and try and bring things forward, and it’s always about you and how you’re leadership that comes to the fore. And on that note, very quickly if I may, October 24th we understand is the date penciled firmly in Gordon Brown’s diary. Is that going to be a good day for you to stay your course and head for?
DC: As soon as he wants to call an election, I’m only too delighted. We’ve got candidates selected in our marginal seats, we’ve raised money for that election, we’ve got a team working on a manifesto, our policy reviews are coming out with really strong ideas. The other thing that happened last week was Gordon Brown took our idea for a border police force, to strengthen our borders, to address the issues people are concerned about in terms of guns and illegal immigration and the crime coming through our borders, and he took that idea and said he’s going to look at it. Now, I’m not sure he’s going to do it properly and that’s a good example of how we’re actually setting the agenda on one of the most important issues there is which is how we fight crime and terrorism.
KG: OK, I’m not sure he’d quite see it that way but well done for putting your perspective on it.