moneySpending on mental health services by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) is a postcode lottery, with spending on it varying from area to area – and not necessarily based on prevalence, a Freedom of Information (FoI) has revealed.

FoI requests were sent to England’s 211 GP-led local NHS CCGs by Luciana Berger, Labour’s shadow public health minister. Of the 142 (67%) that responded, 72 reported that they spent less than 10% of their budget on mental health services, despite research showing that it accounts for 23% of the burden of disease. 

Surrey Health CCG spent the least on mental health; only £7 million – 6.55% – of its £107 million budget went on treating it. Solihull and Northern, Eastern and Western Devon CCGs only spent fractionally more of their budgets on mental health.

At the other end of the scale, the biggest spenders on mental health are West London (18.02%), Central London (17.31%) and Lambeth (16.99%).

Also, while Merton CCG has the highest proportion of its population with a common mental health disorder according to Public Health England – 31% – it only spent just short of the national average on mental health services last year.

Berger said the postcode lottery of mental health spending was “alarming”, adding that: “Mental health should be treated no differently to physical health. 

“People with mental illness shouldn't have to expect different standards of care simply because of where they live.”

Worrying discrepancies

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said the figures revealed a mixed picture. “Different CCGs have different levels of mental illness in their patch so we would expect some variation in spending, and it’s important to acknowledge that many CCGs seem to be allocating their budgets based on need.

“What we wouldn’t expect – which is extremely worrying – is that when you look at the levels of serious mental illness in each CCG compared to the levels of spending, there are serious discrepancies. So, two CCGs may have exactly the same level of need, but one is spending half as much as the other. 

“We also have serious concerns that some of the CCGs with the highest levels of mental health need are spending significantly below the national average. This is having a major impact on patient care. 

“Over the past two years we have seen a doubling in the number of mental health patients being forced to seek emergency treatment away from their local area - from 1,301 people in 2011-12 to 3,024 in 2013-14, including patients being sent 300 miles from Devon to Yorkshire. This is a direct result of not enough money being made available locally for mental health beds.  

“Although many CCGs are certainly getting it right, there are those who need to urgently reconsider whether they are giving mental health parity of esteem with physical health, as their patients rightly deserve.”