Funding for mental health trusts has fallen by 2.3% in real terms in the past 2 years, despite rising demand for care, figures have revealed.
The figures, based on data from responses to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests by 43 of 51 mental health trusts made by the BBC and Community Care, found that investment in mental health services has not kept pace with inflation in the past two years.
The fall also goes in the face of the government’s guarantee that the NHS budget will rise by 0.1% in real terms over the course of this parliament.
This fall in funding also comes at a time when demand for services is increasingly markedly. Responses to a separate FoI request by Community Care from 51 NHS mental health trusts found that budgets for crisis teams has fallen by 1.7% in real terms compared to 2011/12. At the same time, referrals to these teams have increased, on average, by 16%.
In addition, in this time budgets for community mental health teams – which provide support with the aim of preventing people’ mental health deteriorating to crisis point – flatlined in real terms yet referrals rose 13.3%.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: "This is the latest in a series of deeply concerning warning signs that show the true extent of the crisis that mental health services are currently facing. Time and again we are told that, when beds are cut, it is part of an overall strategy to invest resources differently and improve services, but this is clearly not the case at many trusts. We know the NHS is struggling at the moment and that savings need to be made but there simply isn't room for any belt-tightening in the case of mental health services, which have traditionally been underfunded and are currently seeing increasing demand.
"The ultimate consequence of these cuts is that people don't get the help they need in crisis. Mind hears all the time from people who have lost the community health care that was helping them to cope and who now find themselves unable to get through to their local crisis team, or feel 'fobbed off' when they do, because there simply aren't enough staff to cope with the numbers of people in desperate need of their help. This is simply not good enough. A mental health emergency is just as serious as a physical health emergency, and needs to be treated with the same level of urgency.
"Clinical commissioning groups need immediately to review the state of their local mental health services and do everything in their power to ensure the resources are there to help people at their most unwell. They must prioritise mental health services, both to ensure parity of esteem with services for physical health problems and to safeguard existing services."