Words are not enough: why funding is key to transforming mental health support

A recent speech by Theresa May included new mental health pledges with a focus to ensure that mental health is not secondary to physical health. We examine why funding is central to this issue.
Heather Sturgess

In a recent speech at the Charity Commission, Theresa May announced new mental health pledges for schools and employers with a focus to ensure that mental health is not secondary to physical health. Whilst it’s encouraging to see the Government prioritising mental health, May’s statement that “it is always wrong for people to assume that the only answer to these issues is about funding” suggests a lack of understanding of the issue of mental health care. If she does not take stock of the funding issues that mental health services are facing, this could ultimately undermine her pledges.

The government has promised that £15 million more will be spent on mental health community services, amounting to just over £23,000 per constituency 1. This is a drop in the ocean when we consider that one in four people suffer from mental illness each year. Community services are increasingly stretched and feeling the strain of providing for an increasingly ageing population on a tighter budget. A more serious financial commitment would be required to enable a greater focus on mental health rather than just a small supplement to existing services. £15 million is just simply not enough to provide better services.

On top of this, where funding has already been provided the Government has failed to ensure that it has actually reached the intended services. Research by YoungMinds found that only half of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) who responded to freedom of information requests reported increasing their spending on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for 2016/17 to reflect the additional government funds given for this area 2. This means that CAMHS assessments continue to have lengthy waiting lists and around a quarter of children who are assessed are not given treatment, often for reasons such as their condition is ‘not serious enough’3.

Frequently, CCGs reported spending the extra money for CAMHS to backfill cuts or spend on other priorities – so it’s clear that lack of funding in other areas is also impacting on spending on mental health. Without ensuring that the funding allocated for mental health actually reaches the right services in the first place, any pledges to improve mental health care are likely to fail.

This problem is reflected in the opinion of healthcare professionals, who consider funding for mental health to be less sufficient than in other areas. nfpSynergy’s Primary Healthcare Monitor surveys 150 GPs and Nurses annually (including GPs with commissioning roles). In Spring 2016, 69% of healthcare professionals considered ‘mental health care’ to be insufficiently or somewhat insufficiently funded. This was the highest out of the areas we prompted - only 38% consider ‘emergency care’ to be insufficiently funded, and 58% feel the same about ‘elderly care and support’. Frontline NHS staff clearly consider the lack of funding for mental health care to be one of the most pressing issues facing our health service today.
 

 

“How well funded do you believe the following to be in your area?”

Base: 294 primary health care professionals | Source: PHM, June 16, nfpSynergy

This disparity in funding for mental health is not limited to the public sector. In 2014, nfpSynergy’s ‘A Healthy Audience’ report estimated the amount that the top charities in each area of health had to spend on each individual with that condition once the charity’s income and the prevalence of the condition was taken into account. It found that funding per individual was particularly low for mental health. For example, leading mental health charity Mind had one of the lowest incomes per person at £2.35, far below Parkinson’s UK’s £172.62 and Teenage Cancer Trust’s £782.49 – both charities with a smaller total income than Mind. This shows that funding for mental health charities needs to rise to reflect the fact that millions more people suffer from mental health issues than the other two conditions 4. In both the public and third sector, funding for mental health is far behind that of physical health conditions.

Theresa May is right to argue that mental health needs to be treated with the same parity as physical health conditions, and the high profile that mental health has been receiving from the Government and politicians is a brilliant start. But it’s clear that issues around funding are hindering plans to combat mental health issues. If the Prime Minister is serious about improving mental health in this country she needs to recognise that funding is the central issue.

  1. The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-mental-health-...

  2. YoungMinds, 21st December 2016, http://www.youngminds.org.uk/news/blog/3498_children_s_mental_health_fun...

  3. Ibid.

 4. nfpSynergy, May 2014, ‘A healthy Audience’, http://nfpsynergy.net/a-healthy-audience

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