Funding pressures will prevent government from meeting its own mental health targets

The money isn't there to meaningfully improve services, says the Public Accounts Committee

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Funding pressures within the NHS are likely to prevent the government from meeting its own goals on mental healthcare, according to a new parliamentary report.

Achieving ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical healthcare is a ‘laudable ambition’, the Public Accounts Committee says, but ‘we are sceptical about whether this is affordable, or achievable without compromising other services.’

While the Department of Health has committed an additional £1bn to mental health spending over the next five years, the committee cautions that because this money is not ring-fenced, ‘there is a risk that commissioners and providers, already under financial pressure, will have no choice other than to deprioritise other mental or physical health services if they are to meet the new standards.’

Part of the problem is that the NHS commissioners and providers have been given only a small set of targets for a few mental health services, meaning that these are likely to be prioritised at the expense of others services, and of a streamlined, well organised mental healthcare system.

‘The Government has committed to making much-needed improvements to mental health services but we are concerned it does not yet have sound foundations to build on,’ commented PAC chair Meg Hillier MP.

“As a priority the Department of Health and NHS England must achieve a better understanding of the current landscape and the likely costs of achieving its goals.

“If these goals prove beyond the scope of the funds provided then it is vital a plan is in place to make best use of the money available.

The purpose of the PAC — one of parliament’s most powerful committees — is to ensure that public money is being well spent.

The report emphasises that at present, only a quarter of people suffering from mental illness have access to mental health services, partially because services are ‘complex, variable and difficult to navigate’.

Enhancing services would be good for sufferers, but also good for the economy and society in general, since spending on mental health services is believed to generate a net financial gain.

Hillier continued:

“It is the responsibility of Government to ensure its departments work together more effectively to support people with mental health conditions and in doing so reduce pressure on the public purse elsewhere.”

The NHS is currently facing its largest ever deficit, with severe implications for care provision across the service.

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