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CCGs still diverting mental health funds, despite parity commitments

The government’s pledge to ensure parity between mental and physical health services is at risk because CCGs are not using budget increases to boost their mental health investment, instead diverting funds elsewhere, it has been revealed.

An NHS Providers survey of mental health trusts leaders revealed that 63% thought that their CCG would not comply with that obligation, often because CCGs were prioritising giving funding to acute hospitals instead.

Some leaders appeared to accept that CCGs do not have the money to invest in mental health, despite them being required to boost funding for these services under the Mental Health Investment Standard.

The director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: “It is very disappointing that despite repeated commitments to ensure parity between mental and physical health, the public commitments to increase mental health funding will not be delivered on the ground.

“When taken together with reduced funding for local government, and the damaging knock-on effect for social care, this can only exacerbate pressures on the wider NHS which translate into delays and distress for patients and service users.”

Freedom of Information requests from the charity YoungMinds revealed that only half of England’s CCGs are increasing their child and mental health services (CAMHS) budget this year, despite all of them receiving a share of £1.4bn designated by the government for that specific purpose, including £150m for eating disorders services.

The findings raise serious questions about whether the significant improvements to CAMHS care promised since 2010 may not happen. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has identified CAMHS as the biggest failing of the NHS and pledged to complete a “complete overhaul” by 2020.

YoungMinds chief executive Sarah Brennan said: “While some CCGs have made big increases in their spending, it’s deeply concerning that so many others are using some of the new money to backfill cuts or to spend on other priorities.

“Jeremy Hunt has described CAMHS as the single weakest area of NHS provision, so it is vital that all the new money is spent where it was intended, on creating better services with a greater focus on early intervention.”

While half of CCGs did spend the money on CAMHS compared to just a third last year, CAMHS still accounted for just 0.7% of NHS spending this year, around 6.4% of mental health spending.

Data collected by YoungMinds found that Central Manchester CCG is spending £476,151 less on CAMHS this year than it should be, for example, with Horsham and Mid Sussex CCG spending £398,182 less. In comparison, Blackburn with Darwen CCG is spending £107,437 more this year than its allocation.

Last month, separate research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that some CCGs were spending as little as £2 per child on CAMHS.

NHS care of troubled under-18s has long been criticised as inadequate, with young people often facing long waits to access care or denied treatment because they are not deemed unwell enough to qualify. However, demand for CAMHS is rising, partly due to the increased influence of social media.

Responding to YoungMinds’ analysis, Sean Duggan, chief executive of NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, said: “Children and young people’s mental healthcare is quite simply underfunded at a time when this age group is suffering from rising mental health problems.

“The best evidence shows that, pound-for-pound, mental health services make a cost-effective contribution to public health. Their expansion is important if the NHS is to remain sustainable and if patients are to receive a well-rounded experience of care.”

NHS commissioners’ contract negotiations for the next two years will close this Friday 23 December. Duggan said that the contracts offer the “biggest opportunity” at present to move promised mental health funding to frontline services and emphasised that it should not be wasted.

(Image c. Dominic Lipinski, PA Wire)

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