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16.01.18

Funding gap could force mental health providers to prioritise some services ‘at the expense of others’

Figures released today have shown the scale of the widening funding gap between acute hospitals and mental health care providers, prompting fears that some services could be severely affected.

A report drawn up by The King’s Fund confirms that, while the majority of mental health trusts received an increase in funding last year, spending on acute and specialist hospitals continued to grow at a faster rate.

In turn, income for the trusts rose at a lower rate – just 2.5% compared to more than 6% for acute hospitals, widening the gap even further.

The report suggests that this disparity could come from a desire by those in charge of the NHS to aim for A&E performance targets and reduce financial deficits at the expense of funding for some areas of care.

Responding to the news, Sean Duggan, chief executive of Mental Health Network, urged the government to fulfil its pledge of treating mental health equally to physical health.

“There has been significant progress in the way mental health is talked about and recognised as having a positive impact on tackling stigma,” he explained.

“However, with greater awareness of mental health comes extra pressure on services that are already stretched. The government has pledged to put mental health on a par with physical health but this needs to be reflected in investment and the continued progress of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.”

As part of its study, The King’s Fund analysed CQC reports of all 54 mental health trusts across the country and found that more than half of these organisations had an increased risk to patients because of staffing problems.

Helen Gilburt, report author and fellow in health policy at The King’s Fund, said that the results of this report had to be considered, despite the current pressures on the NHS making it more difficult to deal with the issues presented.

“While the great majority of local CCGs have met their commitments to raise spending on mental health, the overall spending gap between mental health trusts and acute and specialise trusts has widened because national funding has focused on relieving pressure on acute hospitals,” Gilburt commented.

“Unless funding grows more quickly, mental health providers may end up implementing improvements to some services at the expense of others.”

Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy and deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, added: “While we welcome extra funding, budgets in mental health services are more stretched than ever. Services face rapidly rising demand, with over 70% of mental health leaders telling us last year they expect demand to rise further.

“Staffing challenges are also severe, particularly in the community sector and in services for children and adolescents. More must be done to ensure that funding earmarked for mental health services, and to implement the five year forward view, reaches frontline providers.

“We need to see all commissioners allocate this funding appropriately and transparently. Meeting the Mental Health Investment Standard is a vital first step towards closing this funding gap.”

 

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