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08.02.17

BMA slams ‘wholly unacceptable’ mental health underfunding

The BMA has raised concerns about the underfunding of NHS mental health hospitals after claims that the budgets these trusts have shrunk by £150m over the last four years.

Research conducted for the BBC’s Panorama programme by the Health Foundation revealed the fall despite the government’s claims that wider health service funding has increased by £8bn in that time.

A Freedom of Information survey sent to 33 mental health trusts by the Health Foundation as part of its research also found a 50% rise in unexpected mental health deaths at the trusts between 2012-13 and 2015-16.

Dr Gary Wannan, the BMA’s community care committee chair, said: “It is wholly unacceptable that the chronic underfunding of mental health services has left some of the most vulnerable people in society without the care and support that they desperately need.

“It is vital that mental health problems are identified and diagnosed as early as possible and that people have access to the right help and support.”

Despite mental health issues affecting up to a quarter of the UK’s population, Dr Wannan stressed that it now accounts for only 11% of the NHS budget, with CCGs known to divert mental health funding to cover rising patient demand in other areas.

The government is only beginning to get to grips with this imbalance with recent initiatives such as the PM’s recent announcement of a sweeping reform of mental healthcare services, including an additional £1bn of funding.

The Health Foundation’s analyst Anita Charlesworth said that mental health trusts have widely been receiving a lessening amount of NHS budget as wider pressures on the service increase.

“The NHS has not set out to cut mental health services but … they’ve had to look for cuts to make up that budget shortfall and often it is mental health services that have borne the brunt of those,” Charlesworth said.

But a DH spokesperson disputed the Health Foundation’s analysis, saying that the trend of rising death owed to changes in the way the NHS records and investigated such deaths.

The spokesperson added that this year alone, mental health spending by CCGs has gone up by £342m, excluding the PM’s allocation of an extra £1.4bn for mental health during this Parliament.

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