Leading charities have urged the Government to urgently address the “crisis” facing mental health services in the forthcoming Budget.
In a letter shared exclusively with The Independent, mental health bodies issued an unprecedented warning to ministers that if budgets are not increased and protected, the majority of mental health sufferers will remain “locked out” of vital services.
Almost a year on from Theresa May’s pledge to improve mental health support and ensure it has parity with physical health services, the letter accuses her of setting out “unambitious” targets, urging that services “cannot go on” with the current levels of funding.
The 12 signatories – which include the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), the Mental Health Foundation and Young Minds – urge that the Autumn Budget at the end of November marks a “critical moment” for ministers to show that they are serious about mental health, by ring-fencing vital budgets.
Opposition politicians have backed the appeal, accusing the Government of “recklessly” allowing mental health budgets to be raided in order to plug holes in other underfunded areas of the NHS and urging that ring-fencing the mental health budget would help reverse this.
The Government has said repeatedly that it is investing £1bn extra in mental health services per year, but the charities and politicians urge that this falls short of what is needed and is often failing to reach the frontline.
“We cannot go on with such unambitious targets, or simply accept a situation where promises of extra funding don’t actually materialise at the frontline,” the letter states.
“If the Government is actually to deliver parity of esteem, the Chancellor needs to invest in and ring-fence the mental health budget to ensure any money promised genuinely reaches those it is intended to help. The crisis is here, the crisis is now.”
In a speech in January, the Prime Minister said that for too long, mental illness had been “a hidden injustice in our country”, and pledged to transform the way mental health problems are dealt with “right across society”.
But despite Ms May’s pledges, mental health services have faced mounting pressures over funding amid rising demand. Freedom of Information requests recently showed that over half of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) plan to reduce the proportion of their budget they spend on mental health for 2016-17.
Vulnerable people are meanwhile facing a “postcode lottery” over treatment, despite official NHS guidelines stating that all CCGs must increase their spending on mental health in line with their overall budget increase.
Highlighting the decline in child mental health services, a major review by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) last week revealed vulnerable children were facing “agonising waits” for treatment, often causing their mental health to deteriorate further.
The findings showed that even when children do access treatment, the services were not always adequate to respond to their needs, with more than a third (39 per cent) of specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) across the UK currently requiring improvement.
Professor Sarah Niblock, chief executive at the UKCP, which represents over 8,000 highly qualified psychotherapists, urged that the Budget was a “critical moment” for the Government to show that it is serious about mental health.
“For all the promises of extra funding in recent years, the truth is that much of the money promised isn’t reaching the front line – and instead is being siphoned off to fund other services,” she told The Independent.
“If the Government wants to make its promises a reality, it needs to ring-fence the mental health budget. Mental health charities want it, professional bodies want it, and 160 MPs have written to the Prime Minister calling for it. Now is the time for change.”
Sharon Hodgson MP, Labour’s shadow minister for public health, accused the Government of “recklessly” allowing mental health budgets to be raided in order to plug holes in other underfunded areas of the NHS.
“The result has been children waiting 18 months to be treated, young people with eating disorders turned away for not being thin enough and vulnerable adults sent miles from their homes just to get a mental health bed,” she told The Independent.
“If the Tory Government is serious about making mental health an equal priority to physical health it should listen to the mental health community and follow Labour’s lead by committing to greater mental health investment, and to ring-fence the mental health budget so that money reaches the front line.”
Liberal Democrat spokesperson Norman Lamb MP said there was a “powerful moral case” for ring-fenced mental health funding, urging that it would help bring an end to the “scandalous” practice of diverting mental health funds to plug gaps elsewhere.
“Despite all the talk of ‘parity of esteem’, we have seen repeated examples of money being shaved off mental health care and diverted to plug gaps in other services. This is a scandalous practice, with the result that too many people continue to be denied vital treatment and support,” he said.
“It is critically important that money promised for mental health is spent as intended, and the Government should carefully consider ring-fencing the mental health budget as a way of achieving this.”
Responding to the letter, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “We are investing more in mental health than ever before – with spending at a record £11.6bn this year.
“The benefits of record funding can already be seen in areas such as mental health support in A&E, 24/7 crisis services and perinatal, and this trend is set to continue thanks to investment of a further £1bn by 2020/21.”
Letter in full:
We, leading mental health bodies in the UK, are calling on the Government to take immediate action to address the rising levels of mental ill-health.
The Government must increase investment in mental health services and ring-fence the mental health budget, ahead of the Autumn Budget. The focus must also be on investing upstream to prevent mental health problems from developing and escalating into crisis.
Without this action, it will not be possible to absorb the spiralling costs of services associated with providing the best care and support.
The majority of children and adults with mental health issues are unable to get the help they need – nor will they get it any time soon.
With a government target for just 25 per cent of adults with mental health issues to access talking therapies by 2020, parity of esteem remains very unlikely.
For children the situation is not much better, the 2020 mental health access target of just 35 per cent still leaves the remaining 65 per cent locked out of services.
The Government has said repeatedly that it’s investing £1bn extra in mental health services per year, but that money falls short of what is needed, and often isn’t reaching the front line.
Freedom of Information requests have shown that over half of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) plan to reduce the proportion of their budget they spend on mental health for 2016-17.
We cannot go on with such unambitious targets, or simply accept a situation where promises of extra funding don’t actually materialise at the front line.
If the Government is actually to deliver parity of esteem, the Chancellor needs to invest in and ring-fence the mental health budget to ensure any money promised genuinely reaches those it is intended to help. The crisis is here, the crisis is now.
Sarah Niblock, chief executive, UK Council for Psychotherapy
Jenny Edwards CBE, CEO, Mental Health Foundation
Sarah Brennan OBE, CEO, Young Minds
Tom Quinn, director of external affairs, B-EAT
Piers Watson, chair, OCD Action
Gary Fereday, CEO, British Psychoanalytic Council
Dr Hadyn Williams, chief executive, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
Heather Stewart, chair, Association Child Psychotherapists
Nicola Gale, president, British Psychological Society
Catherine Roche, chief executive, Place2Be
Vicky Parkinson, CEO, National Counselling Society
Andrew Balfour, CEO, Tavistock Relationships
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies