Mental health charities have welcomed the Government’s commitment to give all A&E departments constant access to mental health professionals in the Comprehensive Spending Review, but have voiced concerns about other announcements.
In Wednesday’s Comprehensive Spending Review, Chancellor George Osborne announced a new raft of cuts to be enacted from 2015.
In all, Osborne announced savings worth £11.5 billion, including cutting funding for local government – which provide social care services – by 10%.
However, Osborne also announced that the NHS budget in England is to rise by 0.01% to £110 billion and a joint £3 billion commissioning plan between NHS and councils for social care.
Elsewhere, the Chancellor announced plans to cap the total spend on all welfare benefits – excluding the state pension – which will be set in cash terms every four years.
But there was some good news for mental health services, with the announcement that every accident and emergency department will have constant access to mental health professionals and a commitment to ensure that more adults and young people have access to psychological therapies.
Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, welcomed the commitment to give A&E departments constant access to mental health professionals: “This is fantastic news and has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of people with mental health problems. We are keen to hear more details about how much funding this initiative will receive.
“People who present themselves at A&E are twice as likely to have a mental health problem than the general population. Sadly, they often don’t get access to the care they need due to a lack of funding. Our members regularly tell us stories of being sent away from hospitals, despite being in the midst of a crisis.
“We must improve mental health care if we are ever going to effectively tackle our over-stretched emergency departments.
“I am also pleased to see a commitment to investment in talking therapies. However, in the past these services have focused solely on people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety. This has left people with severe mental illness like schizophrenia left on medication alone. The government has begun to address this in the last few years, so we hope today’s commitment includes this vulnerable group.”
But Jenkins was more critical of other aspects of the Spending Review: “We are deeply concerned to see a 10% cut in local government funding, which will squeeze already insufficient social care budgets even further. Cuts to social care will create a knock-on effect on the NHS, as people left without proper support are more likely to reach crisis point and need medical care. This could easily undermine the positive initiatives for people with mental illness announced [in the review].”
Mind’s head of policy and campaigns, Vicki Nash, also welcomed the further investment in psychological therapies: “In some parts of the country people are still struggling to gain access to talking treatments when they desperately need them so this should help towards meeting demand,” she said.
“We also welcome the news that every accident and emergency department will have constant access to mental health professionals. Through Mind’s Crisis Care campaign we know that this will be particularly beneficial to people who may be experiencing mental distress as A&E can often be their first port of call.
But, like Jenkins, Nash was concerned by other announcements Osborne made: “It’s unclear whether the £3.8 billion committed to NHS and councils is additional investment or if it is being taken from the existing health budget which may mean cuts being made elsewhere. We are also disappointed that many vulnerable people will continue to be denied access to social care due to the high national eligibility threshold.
“The proposed cap on welfare expenditure will also be a cause for concern. We urge the Government to remain focused on tackling the barriers people with mental health problems face to working and living independently.”