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Mental health budget increases ‘not reaching the front line’

GPs could continue to struggle to source ‘timely and effective’ referral services for patients because Government pledges to increase mental health funding are not reaching the front line.

New analysis by health think-tank the King’s Fund revealed that 40% of mental health trusts actually saw income fall in 2015/16 rather than grow, despite pledges from the Government to increase funding for mental healthcare so that it is on a par with physical healthcare.

NHS England had made assurances that almost 90% of plans submitted by CCGs last year included mental health funding increases. But, according to the accounts of 58 mental health trusts in England which provide 80% of all mental health care, income fell and a higher proportion of trusts ended the year in deficit than in previous financial years.

The King’s Fund says the findings are a warning that the ‘funding required to improve mental health care is not reaching the frontline services where it is most needed, which will have a direct impact on access to treatment and the quality of patient care’.

The think-tank is also concerned that plans to deliver targeted service improvements outlined by the Mental Health Taskforce earlier this year are now in jeopardy. The taskforce’s report called for increased investment in vital services such as crisis intervention and early intervention in psychosis services.

The taskforce also suggested an investment of over £1 billion a year of additional funding by 2020/21 to reach one million more people.

King’s Fund policy fellow Helen Gilburt, who carried out the analysis, said: ‘The fact that the planned increases in funding for mental health have not materialised in trust finances in so many areas is worrying, as there is a really urgent need for investment.’

She added: ‘Patients should expect access to timely and effective treatment, yet across the country there is widespread evidence of poor-quality care, and patients are increasingly reporting a poor experience of mental health services. Many of the pressures in mental health are being seen in areas of care where patients are most vulnerable.’

‘While we welcome the commitments to increase funding, the experience of last year shows that parity of esteem for mental health continues to remain under threat.’

A Pulse investigation has revealed that GPs are finding their referrals increasingly batted back, with three in five of those made to specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) resulting in no treatment at all.