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Calls for ringfenced MH budget as ambulance call-outs soar by 25%

The number of emergency ambulance call-outs for those experiencing mental health issues in England has risen by 23% in just a couple of years, with 30,000 more patients in crisis in 2016-17 compared to two years earlier.

The data, obtained by former shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger MP as part of Freedom of Information requests, showed that paramedics helped almost 173,000 mental health patients last year, almost a quarter more than the figure in 2014-15.

Extra demand translated to an additional 55,000 hours spent supporting people with their mental health last year, up by 32% in the space of two years. The hike was even worse in London, standing at 45%.

Although accepting the numbers were shocking, Berger, who made history as Labour’s first-ever minister dedicated entirely to mental health, said they came as no surprise. She blamed the sharp rise on the government, who she accused of dismantling “vital early intervention and prevention services so more people are ending up in crisis” – a point she stressed emphatically in her interview with NHE after her ministerial appointment in 2015.

To protect these preventive services, the former minister and current MP for Liverpool Wavertree argued health secretary Jeremy Hunt had “no other option” but to introduce ringfenced mental health budgets to ensure they reach the frontline.

“The health secretary must take urgent action for the sake of patients and staff,” she told national press. “Too much money pledged for mental health is not reaching the sector. In the absence of ringfenced budget, funding is being diverted to prop up other areas of the NHS.”

While the figures were stark countrywide, the London Ambulance Service was under particular strain, responding to more mental health calls than any other trust – almost 52,000 last year. But the West Midlands Ambulance Service experienced the largest rise (41%) in incidents themselves.

The government, however, prides itself on its mental health investment, with a Department of Health spokesperson ensuring the area continues to be a “top priority”. As well as investing £1bn a year by 2020, the department has also recently announced 21,000 new mental health posts at a cost of £1.3bn.

But Berger said the new posts are actually a red herring, with the health sector officially having lost 6,600 mental health nurses and doctors since 2010 and many other posts remaining unfilled. Other health bodies are also skeptical of the workforce announcement: the Royal College of Nursing argued the policies do not appear to add up due to confusing training timescales, and the BMA stated that it did not address other historic issues in the sector.

(Top image c. Peter Byrne/PA Wire)


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