talking therapiesCommitments to ensure parity of esteem between mental and physical health services in England will not be consistently met this year, a survey has revealed.

Under the Mental Health Investment Standard commissioners are required to boost funding for mental health in line with their own budget increases. Contract negotiations for the next two years were completed by 23 December 2016.

But a survey of mental health trust leaders, carried out by NHS Providers, found that 63% thought that the Mental Health Investment Standard would be missed. The main reason given for the shortfall was that clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) were giving funding priority to acute hospitals. Comments also suggested some leaders accept CCGs do not have the money to invest in mental health.

The survey drew responses from leaders at 38 trusts – 64% of all mental health providers in England.

Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “It is very disappointing that despite repeated commitments to ensure parity between mental and physical health, the public commitments to increase mental health funding will not be delivered on the ground. 

“The survey findings suggest that in trying to conclude new contracts both commissioners and providers face significant pressures. Many commissioners want to increase funding for mental health but – amid other pressures – they lack the funding to see it through. Mental health trusts [were] being pressed to sign off payment arrangements and contracts by [December 23], even if these fail to protect and improve the services available and meet the public commitments that have been made.

“Mental health problems represent the largest single cause of disability and ill health in the UK. Another year of failing to fully meet the public commitments on mental health will undermine the ability to invest in new access standards and other improvements that have been set out in detail by NHS England and strongly supported by both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health.   

“When taken together with reduced funding for local government, and the damaging knock-on effect for social care, this can only exacerbate pressures on the wider NHS which translate into delays and distress for patients and service users.

“This must not be allowed to happen. We urge NHS Improvement and NHS England to examine the proposed contracts to ensure they consistently and fully meet the public commitments that have been made and they should consult providers fully in this exercise.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said that it was: “… unacceptable [that] poor local decision making could lead to a failure to adequately invest in mental health services again. Services that are already in a desperate state. 

“We remind all CCGs that they are required to meet the Mental Health Investment Standards to ensure that parity of esteem is achieved. If they miss this opportunity, it will have a devastating impact on the services that people receive in the years to come. We need to see strong central and local leadership to avert another year of crisis in mental health funding. 

“There must be transparency about how and where local mental health investment is being made. It would be incredibly worrying if mental health investment was being sacrificed so that CCGs can balance their books.

“Mental health has been underfunded for too long with dire consequences for people with mental health problems. People tell us that support is getting harder to access and at the same time demand is increasing. If people don’t get the help they need, when they need it, they are likely to become more unwell and need more intensive – and expensive – support further down the line. Failing to deliver the right care isn’t good for people and it’s not good for the NHS.”