A report published today by NHS Providers and the Healthcare Financial Management Association has once again raised questions about the ability of the NHS to achieve its stated ambition of ‘parity’ for mental health care. The report, based on a survey of mental health provider trusts and local clinical commissioning groups, found that in many areas, NHS England’s requirement of a real terms rise in mental health service funding was not getting through to the organisations providing most of the specialist services that are available.
The report is one of many in recent months and years, based on surveys or Freedom of Information requests, that have tried to piece together what is happening with NHS mental health spending. The picture that emerges is an incomplete one, but it strongly suggests wide variations between local areas amid widespread pressures on services everywhere.
It is possible, of course, for a CCG to increase mental health spending without passing it all to mental health trusts, for example through expanding primary care provision. But data from the NHS Benchmarking Network shows that the number of people using mental health trusts’ services is growing year on year, and if funding isn’t rising commensurately, this raises concerns about the quality or intensity of support people are being offered.
If parity is ever to gain real meaning, we need to hold the whole of the NHS to account for achieving it.
More than anything, today’s report is a reminder of how important it is to record and report levels of investment in mental health support of all kinds, for people of all ages, from prevention and early intervention to community and inpatient services. If parity is ever to gain real meaning, we need to hold the whole of the NHS to account for achieving it. That means not just spending more on mental health support but helping more people who currently get nothing at all and integrating mental and physical health care for the millions of people who require both.
It is now vital for mental health spending, and its uses, to be reported regularly and without delay in order to see that progress is being made and to make equality a reality across the country.