Some areas of mental health spending in the NHS are increasing—but not nearly fast enoughby Helen Gilburt / January 25, 2018 / Leave a comment
At its heart, the government’s commitment to parity of esteem for mental health is about making sure people get the same quality of NHS treatment whether they have a mental illness, physical health problems or both. The NHS has a long history of underfunded mental health services, certainly compared to acute hospital services, and so it’s not surprising that funding is by and large how we now measure progress towards parity.
The government has made a number of financial commitments in recent years, but announcing extra money is the easy bit; actually delivering that funding and getting it to the frontline can be more difficult. While the NHS plans to develop key services such as teams for crisis resolution, home treatment and early intervention in psychosis, this kind of expansion requires significant investment.
With this in mind, there is some positive news. The King’s Fund’s latest analysis suggests that most NHS mental health trusts, which are tasked with delivering many of these improvements, saw an increase in their income last year. Just 16 per cent did not see an increase in their income in 2016/17, a much better position than the previous two years when 40 per cent of mental health trusts did not receive any extra money.
So what’s the problem? Although some areas of mental health spending are increasing, including funding for mental health trusts, the problem is that this growth is too little, especially at a time when demand for services is rising. That demand is driving costs across the NHS, and the threat of growing deficits among NHS acute and specialist providers has led to them being the main priority for extra funding. So while funding for NHS mental health providers has increased, the gap in funding between mental health trusts and acute trusts has widened.
“Since 2010 the number of nursing posts in NHS mental health services has fallen 13 per cent”
NHS England has called for an honest conversation with the public about what the NHS should and can provide within a constrained budget. At a point when the NHS is trying to deliver improvements in mental health while dealing with pressures in other parts of the system, this calls for realism about what can be delivered, to whom and at what cost.
A limited budget leads to difficult decisions on the ground about which services…