Spending on mental health care in England has fallen for the second year in a row, officials have admitted amid mounting fears that it will fare still worse under the NHS changes taking effect at the end of March.
Former coalition health minister Paul Burstow is warning that “short-sighted penny-pinching is condemning people to a lifetime of mental ill health”.
Figures obtained by Burstow show that the NHS is already spending up to three times less on mental health services in some areas than it is in others. He is urging the new, GP-led clinical commissioning groups to act on the economic case for investment in mental health when they decide local spending priorities. “Failure to do so simply shunts costs and crises on to families and more expensive acute care,” Burstow said.
The admission that mental health spending fell in real terms last year – despite the government’s pledge to protect the NHS from cuts – came in evidence this week by Department of Health officials to the Commons health select committee. They said unpublished data showed a drop of 1% in spending on services for adults, after allowing for inflation, following another 1% fall in 2011-12.
Dr Hugh Griffiths, national clinical director for mental health, told the committee he was “disturbed” by reports of reductions in services in some parts of the country.
The record of the old local primary care trusts in respect of spending on mental health had been “to be honest, variable”, Griffiths said. “One of the things we need to keep an eye on in future is what local commissioners do under the new arrangements.”
Committee member Rosie Cooper, Labour MP for West Lancashire, described the recent case of a young woman constituent who had been unable to get treatment despite being so ill that she was twice handcuffed by police to calm her down.
Bruce Calderwood, director of mental health, disability and equality at the Department of Health, said the episode described by Cooper was “completely unacceptable, just appalling”.
Burstow is to lead a year-long commission on mental health for the Lib Dem thinktank, Centre Forum. He obtained the breakdown of the 2011-12 local spending figures, which have not previously been disclosed, through parliamentary questions.
The figures show that while Herefordshire spent £315 per head on mental health, almost double the England average of £166, East Riding of Yorkshire spent just under £98 and Cambridgeshire less than £102.
Burstow, who was care services minister responsible for mental health from 2010 to 2012, said he now realised that he had failed while in office to get many local primary care trusts to appreciate the fundamental importance of investment in mental health care.
“What I am disappointed about – if you like, what I regret – is that the message clearly didn’t get through to commissioners,” Burstow said. “Half of them have been protecting services but the other half have been cutting them.”
David Brindle – guardian.co.uk