Many local health bodies are diverting some of the new funding given to them for children’s mental health services to prop up other services or backfill cuts, new research has found.
In 2015, the government pledged an extra £1.4 billion over five years to “transform” child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) but research undertaken by YoungMinds into the responses of 199 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) from Freedom of Information requests has found that this money is often not reaching its intended destination.
In the first year of extra funding (2015-16), only 36% of CCGs that responded increased their CAMHS spend to reflect their additional government funds. The remaining 64% used some or all of the extra money to backfill cuts or to spend on other priorities.
While in the second year of extra funding (2016-17), 50% of CCGs that responded increased their CAMHS spend to reflect their additional government funds, the other half still used some or all of the extra money for other priorities.
Fewer than half of the CCGs that responded were able to provide full information about their CAMHS budgets.
Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “After years of cuts, the government’s recent investment in children’s mental health services was hugely welcome, and we should now be witnessing significant improvements across the country. But the reality is that the situation varies enormously from one area to the next. While some CCGs have made big increases in their spending, it’s deeply concerning that so many others are using some of the new money to backfill cuts or to spend on other priorities.
“It is also alarming that half of CCGs can’t provide full information about their CAMHS budgets. If they aren’t properly tracking how much money they are spending, it is impossible to say whether services are improving.
“[Health Secretary] Jeremy Hunt has described CAMHS as the single weakest area of NHS provision, so it is vital that all the new money is spent where it was intended – on creating better services with a greater focus on early intervention.”
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, called for the pace of funding to quicken if the government’s promise of transforming CAMHS is to be fulfilled: “Children and young people’s mental healthcare is quite simply underfunded at a time when this age group is suffering from rising mental health problems,” he said.
“NHS commissioners’ contract negotiations for the next two years [closed] on 23 December . There is a serious and pressing need for these contracts to get things back on track by moving promised funding from the commissioners to frontline services. This is currently our biggest opportunity to improve mental health services and we cannot afford to waste it.
“The best evidence shows that, pound-for-pound, mental health services make a cost-effective contribution to public health. Their expansion is important if the NHS is to remain sustainable and if patients are to receive a well-rounded experience of care.”