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Doctors rue poor mental health funding as half of CCGs ready to cut budgets

Doctors have today slammed the government for failing to protect mental health funding as figures showed that 50% of CCGs are planning to reduce their proportional spend in this area during 2017-18.

The figures, which were obtained through Freedom of Information (FoI) requests sent by Labour MP and former shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger, found that half of CCGs would be slashing MH funding next year, down from the 57% that cut in 2016-17 – but still a large increase from the year before, when the figure was 38%.

Labour’s discovery adds to a wealth of growing evidence to the claims that mental health care is cracking under pressure, with a report released yesterday warning that “radical reform” is needed to ensure the workforce is fit for purpose.

Earlier this week, a separate piece of research warned that more than 50,000 children were being turned away from specialist mental health services due to unprecedented demand.

“Theresa May claims to be committed to improving mental health but her cuts are harming mental health services,” said Berger, who chairs Labour’s Campaign For Mental Health and is a member of the Health Select Committee.

“This is the second year in a row that half of our cash-strapped CCGs have not increased their proportion of spend on mental health. Ministers must ask themselves how long this can be allowed to go on for. They are overseeing a system which puts patients at risk and staff under unbearable pressure.  

“Enough empty promises. At the very least Jeremy Hunt must urgently introduce a ringfence around mental health budgets.”

Doctors from the BMA agreed that the figures prove rhetoric around mental health funding needs to be backed up with solid action from government.

The union’s consultants committee deputy chair and consultant psychiatrist, Dr Gary Wannan, stated: “The government has been very keen to talk about its commitment to bring the funding and accessibility of mental health services into line with other forms of NHS care which is why it’s so frustrating to see that CCGs plan to reduce the proportion they spend on these vital services.

“It’s very easy to promise investment but it only matters to patients if the money translates into the best care possible, fairly and evenly provided across the country.”

Dr Wannan added that mental health services are struggling without increased spending, and frequently there is unacceptable variation between the quality of care provided in different areas of the country.  

“If patients are fortunate enough to live in an area which has invested in specialised services, the standard of care and support they receive can be pioneering,” the BMA official explained. “Meanwhile another patient somewhere else in England may have no choice but to be treated in a bed hundreds of miles away from friends and family.

“The BMA wants to see real parity of esteem between mental health and physical health services so people with mental health problems receive timely care in the right setting and enjoy the best quality of life.”

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, also added: “The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health identified a need for additional investment into the service and it’s imperative that we stick to this plan.

“In particular we encourage more investment in priority areas  such as child and adolescent mental health services rapid response to people in crisis so they have appropriate assessment and treatment"

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment, but at the time of publication had not sent a response.

Top Image: Gareth Fuller PA Wire

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