Government continues to oversee a decline in spending on mental health

Disproportionate funding cuts mean mental health services are “running dangerously close to collapse”,
Professor Simon Wessely told the Guardian today in his first interview since being elected President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Despite the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, saying he wants mental and physical health cases to be given parity of esteem, Wessely said this situation would not be tolerated if the patients had cancer.
“People are still routinely waiting for – well, we don’t really know, but certainly more than 18 weeks, possibly up to two years, for their treatment and that is routine in some parts of the country. Some children aren’t getting any treatment at all – literally none”.

Indeed, the Health Select Committee, in their recent inquiry on Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), also heard repeated concerns about lack of treatment, inappropriate care and bed shortages. Care Minister Norman Lamb himself told the Committee that the current CAMHS commissioning landscape is “fragmented”.

And yesterday the Local Government Association (LGA) reiterated concerns about the “fragmented” system, calling for a complete overhaul of services for children and young people with mental health problems need a complete overhaul. It said the current system also does not link up issues that impact on children’s mental health as a result of their parents’ own mental health issues.

And so the cycle continues.

None of this is surprising given analysis published today by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) which shows all 57 NHS mental health trusts suffered a 2.3 per cent real terms funding cut between 2011-12 and 2013-14, when figures were adjusted for inflation, equivalent to £253 million.

One in five trusts saw income reduced by 5-9 per cent, while five saw budgets plunge by more than 10 per cent.

The findings, based on Freedom of Information requests, also show there are 3640 fewer nurses and 213 fewer doctors working in mental health in April this year compared to staffing levels two years ago.

And across 45 mental health trusts, bed capacity has been cut by 846.

The Government has been criticised for allowing mental health services to be cut disproportionately, as the NHS as a whole undergoes the severest budget squeeze in its history.

Wessely said he asked NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens how the gap between mental and physical health services could be bridged but was told that resolving the issue would involve a “much longer conversation with the public”. Meaning that without increased funding to health services, greater parity between acute and mental health would result in significant losses in other sectors.

However with rising uproar over the current landscape, public pressure is no doubt mounting for the Government to do more to reverse the effects of cuts to mental health services.