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RCGP raises alarm over 'worrying' mental health cuts

The RCGP has issued a warning over 'worrying' cuts to mental health services in the NHS, after campaigners claimed services in some areas were seeing their funding halved.

Speaking to Pulse, Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the RCGP and a GP in Kennington, South London, warned that cuts to mental health services could reverse ‘the amazing successes of the last ten years' in mental health. Dr Gerada said news of cuts was ‘worrying' and warned that shedding mental health services in local areas, including 'wrap around' support, would damage care and put further pressures on GPs.

Her comments come after the union Unite has written to 65 GP practices in Nottinghamshire urging them to protest against cuts to a local mental health service.

Unite is urging GPs to contact NHS Nottingham City to oppose the cuts, which have seen the Health in Mind counselling service's budget slashed and a raft of clinical staff facing redundancy. Unite claims that the staffing budget will be halved from £3.2 million to £1.6 million. NHS Nottingham City insists that the budget, after cuts, will be 'in excess of £2 million.'

Speaking to Pulse, Dr Gerada said: ‘I worry we'll end up back in a position where patients can't access decent talking therapies, where there aren't decent assessments for patients with complex problems. GPs won't want that to happen, it would harm their patients and see their workload rise dramatically.'

‘We are working with the Royal College of Psychiatrists to support GPs in commissioning mental health services. I think, on the whole, GPs manage mental health services remarkably well but they will need support on commissioning them. That is not a criticism; it is simply a reflection on the fact that GP commissioners face such an enormous task over the next two years.'

Mental health charity Mind said that mental health services are often seen as ‘a soft target' by PCTs and councils looking to make cost savings and urged GPs not to follow suit when they takeover commissioning responsibility. The charity warned that ‘knee jerk' cuts designed to achieve short-term savings cost the NHS more in the long-term, particularly with the current economic climate sparking increasing demand for mental health support.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said:‘Cuts have become a reality faced by many mental health services across the country. There is a concern that they are seen by some as a "soft target" for funding reductions, despite the fact that in these tough economic times more people than ever are experiencing mental distress.

‘Often though these cuts are knee jerk reactions to the need to make short term savings, and in the long run the shrinking or loss of a service may lead to higher healthcare costs.'

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