Recent surveys and Government policies give grounds for some optimism that mental health services are improving and can continue to do so – and this should be celebrated. But progress must not be derailed by a lack of investment.
Firstly, the Care Quality Commission’s annual survey of mental health service users was largely upbeat. It found that most service users responded positively to questions about the health or social care worker they had seen most recently, and that aspects of crisis care had improved.
Government policy is also pointing the way towards further improvement in services. For example, the Department of Health’s new suicide prevention strategy, which seeks to build on the success of its 2002 predecessor, has an emphasis is on reducing the suicide rate in England and providing better support for those bereaved or affected by suicide, and seems to have been received positively by professionals.
Additionally, the Department of Health – at last – published the implementation framework for its mental health strategy, No Health Without Mental Health, in July. This seeks to put the aims of the strategy – again, largely welcomed at the time – into practice.
But while these are all positive steps forward, let’s not carried away: significant concerns remain. For example, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health published a report in July that outlined their worries about the place of mental health in the upcoming NHS reforms. The Group’s concerns included uncertainty about whether GPs possess enough knowledge of mental health problems to commission services effectively and the fact that more might need to be done to ensure mental health features prominently in local health plans.
These concerns have been present since reform was first mooted in 2010 and haven’t been addressed, and it doesn’t look like they will be, before the reforms start to kick in.
But more significantly, investment in adult mental health services is decreasing: the National Survey of Investment in Mental Health Services found that spending on mental health decreased by 1% in real terms during the past year.
With health and social care budgets continuing to be squeezed – well into the foreseeable future – cuts could have a serious impact on the ability of mental health services to continue to improve and to deliver fully on the mental health and suicide prevention strategies.
It has been said by many people, on many occasions, but needs saying again: cutting mental health spending is a false economy. Investing in mental health will not only improve outcomes for service users, it will decrease costs for the NHS and acute services, and will also help more people to get back into, or remain in, work, reducing the demand for benefits. Services are getting better and can continue to do so, but not without adequate financial support.