Dan Parton cutThe NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network has called for parity of funding for mental health and this is imperative for the future provision of services.

It has long been a criticism of health and social care services that funding for mental health lags so far behind physical health. As Ed Mitchell, clinical fellow to Martin McShane, NHS England’s director for long term conditions wrote last year, mental illness causes almost a quarter of our burden of disease (22.8%), yet receives only 11% of NHS funding. 

Indeed, things seem to have been getting worse recently; mental health funding has declined by 2.3% in real terms in the past 2 years, according to statistics collated by the BBC and Community Care. Specifically, crisis care funding has fallen by 1.7% in the same time, despite referrals having increased, on average, by 16%.

It is not surprising that there is talk of ‘crisis’ within mental health services, with some struggling to keep up with demand, which is on the increase, thanks to the continuing economic pressures many people are feeling – despite the much talked of ‘upturn’ in the economy.

So, with a new chief of NHS England – Simon Stevens – starting on April 1, the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network’s call for parity of funding is timely.

Chief executive of the Mental Health Network, Stephen Dalton, said: “Mental health services are at a tipping point. After decades of transformational change and improving care within resources available, it’s now time for the government to play its part and recognise the importance of mental health.”

The Network also wants Stevens to make a commitment to parity between mental and physical health. This call is made all the more important  by the continued challenge of the greater  reductions in funding that have affected mental health services,  as opposed to those imposed on acute hospitals.

But whether any of this new drive towards parity is realised is another matter. In some ways, Stevens, in a speech on Tuesday evening, is making the right noises. He said that only by “radically transforming services” will the NHS continue to thrive. He added that “traditional partitioning of health services – GPs,  hospital outpatients, A&E departments, community nurses, emergency mental healthcare, out-of-hours units, ambulance services and so on – no longer makes much sense.”

So, further integration of health and care services appears to be on the agenda, something that has been called for by many in the field, for a good number of years.

But – and there had to be one – Stevens added that the health service is enduring the most sustained "budget crunch in its 66-year history". OK, that isn’t a revelation, but it does more than hint that money is, and will continue to be, tight.

This brings us back to the Network’s call for the government to play its part. What really needs to happen is for the government to step in and commit extra funding for mental health. While George Osborne et al may go on about the lack of funds available, ‘austerity’ and ‘tackling the deficit’, when he really wants to, he can find funds. Think of the money that appeared for the flooding victims earlier in the year (which was fully needed and justified, I hasten to add and is just an example) at short notice.

As I – and many others, more learned than myself – have said, investing in mental health services, especially preventative ones, can lead to savings further down the line if they prevent more serious illnesses occurring. But more than that, with the sheer number of people who experience mental illness, it stands to reason that services to help them should have equal funding.

I’m not advocating taking money away from physical health, rather that the cuts to mental health services should be stopped and new money should be committed to the NHS to keep  existing mental health services going and to enable new ones to be developed. 

If the governmental will is there, I’m sure funds could be found. But there is little indication that this will actually happen…