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Promises to boost mental health funding stall

40% of mental health trusts income fell last year

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 17 October 2016

Repeated promises to increase the share of NHS funding to mental health care providers have failed to happen so far in many parts of England, according to a new analysis by health think tank The King’s Fund, published at the weekend.

The think tank’s analysis of the annual accounts of all 58 mental health trusts in England found that 40% of these trusts saw their income fall in 2015-16.

This is despite the government’s commitment to parity of esteem for mental health with physical health and assurances from NHS England that almost 90% of plans submitted by CCGs last year included mental health funding increases. NHS England had made it clear that it expected CCGs to increase mental health funding in 2015-16.

Helen Gilburt, a fellow in policy at The King’s Fund who did the analysis, said the reality was that commitments to increase mental health funding were not reaching the front line.

Given that mental health trusts provide about 80% of all mental health care, the fact that income fell in so many trusts last year illustrated clearly, she argued, that the promised funding increases were not materialising.

The analysis also showed that a higher proportion of trusts ended the year in deficit than in previous years.

The King’s Fund said its findings were a warning that vital funding needed to improve mental health care was not reaching the frontline and this would have a direct impact on access to treatment and the quality of patient care.

Funding cuts could also jeopardise plans to deliver targeted service improvements outlined by the Mental Health Taskforce earlier this year in its five year forward view for mental health report published in February.

The taskforce’s report called for increased investment into services such as crisis intervention and early intervention in psychosis services.

Helen Gilburt said: “The fact that the planned increases in funding for mental health have not materialised in trust finances in so many areas is worrying, as there is a really urgent need for investment.

“Patients should expect access to timely and effective treatment, yet across the country there is widespread evidence of poor-quality care, and patients are increasingly reporting a poor experience of mental health services. Many of the pressures in mental health are being seen in areas of care where patients are most vulnerable.

“While we welcome the commitments to increase funding, the experience of last year shows that parity of esteem for mental health continues to remain under threat.”

Dr Phil Moore, chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners’ mental health commissioners network, said: “Mental health trusts provide invaluable and critical services but it must be recognised that mental health service provision is wider than trusts – to get the best possible outcomes for their population, clinical commissioners are also investing in out of hospital care that focuses on prevention, recovery and community-based care.

“They are also looking at partnerships with voluntary and third sector providers, and crucially investing in primary care mental health services.

“The figures in the King’s Fund report may represent what the trusts are experiencing as individual organisations, but it is the overall picture of mental health services, which includes CCG investment outside of trusts that matters, because it is that which shows the care available for patients and carers.”

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