Promised increases in funding for mental health services have not been made in many areas of the country – with some mental health trusts even seeing their income fall in the past year, according to new analysis.
While NHS England gave assurances that almost 90% of plans submitted by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) last year included mental health funding increases, and had made it clear that it expected CCGs to increase mental health funding in 2015/16, in practice this isn’t happening. New analysis by The King’s Fund found that 40% of mental health trusts saw their income fall in 2015/16.
The findings are based on analysis of the annual accounts of all 58 mental health trusts in England. Given that mental health trusts provide about 80% of all mental health care, the fact that income fell in so many trusts last year indicates that the promised funding increases are not reaching the frontline. The analysis also showed that a higher proportion of trusts ended the year in deficit than in previous years.
The disparity between planned and actual investment in mental health could be attributed to various factors, including the need to tackle deficits among NHS providers, which have been largely concentrated in the acute sector.
The King’s Fund’s findings are a warning that the funding required to improve mental health care is not reaching the frontline services where it is most needed, which will have a direct impact on access to treatment and the quality of patient care. The Fund is also concerned that this will jeopardise plans to deliver targeted service improvements outlined by the Mental Health Taskforce earlier this year. The Taskforce’s report called for increased investment in vital services such as crisis intervention and early intervention in psychosis services.
Helen Gilburt, a fellow in policy at The King’s Fund who did the analysis, said: “The fact that the planned increases in funding for mental health have not materialised in trust finances in so many areas is worrying, as there is a really urgent need for investment.
“Patients should expect access to timely and effective treatment, yet across the country there is widespread evidence of poor-quality care, and patients are increasingly reporting a poor experience of mental health services. Many of the pressures in mental health are being seen in areas of care where patients are most vulnerable.
“While we welcome the commitments to increase funding, the experience of last year shows that parity of esteem for mental health continues to remain under threat.”
Gilburt has set out the analysis of mental health trust funding in a blog post.