Voluntary and community bodies have key roles in mental health support but face major financial pressures, new report finds

23 July 2019

Voluntary and community organisations provide essential support for people’s mental health that complements what statutory services can offer, but financial pressures are putting them under severe strain, according to preliminary research published today by Centre for Mental Health.

Arm in arm, commissioned by the Association of Mental Health Providers, warns that voluntary and community organisations face numerous financial barriers including reductions in local government funding, short-term and ‘more for less’ contracts, unpredictable and delayed decision-making, and the unintended consequences of national policies. Smaller organisations are particularly at risk following the introduction of Integrated Care Systems, limiting their ability to compete for funding on much larger geographical footprints than before.

Arm in arm is based on interviews with both commissioners and providers of voluntary sector mental health support. It shows that commissioners in both local government and the NHS were keenly aware of the extra value that voluntary and community organisations can bring. Some commissioners had taken action specifically to support voluntary and community organisations to get funding and retain their distinctive approaches. But they were frustrated that competition for contracts often stopped organisations from working well together and could lead to come going out of business altogether.

The report finds that the deepest disagreements between commissioners and voluntary sector organisation often centred on monitoring and accountability. Commissioners need to know that public money was being well spent but most voluntary sector organisations don’t have the data collection capabilities of NHS trusts or larger private sector companies. Some had sought to resolve this through evaluation and qualitative evidence of impact rather than onerous outcome monitoring measures.

Association of Mental Health Providers chief executive Kathy Roberts said: “Around 1.5 million people access CCG commissioned mental health support from the voluntary and community sector each year. We are aware of many excellent commissioning practices, collaborations, and positive relationships between the VCSE sector and statutory bodies that commission them. However, there are also concerns for the sustainability of the sector which will reduce access to services people want and need. This report shows the critical issues that our members and the wider VCSE sector are facing, which, if not dealt with, will only create more risk for the sector and have a catastrophic impact on people’s lives.”

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said:

Voluntary and community organisations have an essential role in complementing what statutory services can offer for our mental health. For the most disadvantaged and marginalised they can make a life-changing impact and challenge entrenched inequalities and injustices. We must ensure that their voice and role continue to be heard and valued.

Download the report here

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