Cameron pledged a ‘revolution’ in English mental health funding, with almost £1 billion of targeted investment to go to specific areas neglected in the past. Is this enough?
On the 11th of January the Prime Minister spoke about a new set of “anti-poverty” measures, including parenting classes, family counselling, and an injection of money into some of the more depleted mental health services in England. On a surface level, this new money does seem extraordinary: £247 million will be put into making sure every hospital has mental health services in their A&E unit over the rest of Cameron’s term, £290 million will go to mental health provisions for new mothers, and waiting time targets will be introduced for both young people with eating disorders and first-time sufferers of psychosis, for the first time in NHS history. It should be said that any money is better than none, yet this does not go far enough, and seems to be more of a superficial move rather than one which will be effective in actuality.
Writing for The Independent, Neha Shah calls the proposed money “a welcome relief,” yet highlights how over £11 billion is needed to make up the gap between the 13% of NHS funding mental health receives, and the 23% of the “UK disease burden” that mental health issues make up.
Labour have called these proposals “too little, too late”, and they would be correct. This can be seen from only a brief look at the devastating cuts that UK mental health services have endured during the Clegg-Cameron years, and even in those before 2010. The funding allocated so that 30,000 more women each year can access specialist mental health services before and after giving birth, is all well and good but doesn’t account for the terrible cuts that postnatal depression services have suffered in recent years. Cuts have also possibly caused an increase in the number of cases of women suffering with postnatal depression. A report published in 2010 noted that cuts to the numbers of properly trained health visitors, were creating a situation where women were more vulnerable to becoming depressed after birth.
Funding for counselling for those with postnatal depression was also cut by Cameron. In 2014 doctors warned that over 40% of English health board areas had no support team for postnatal depression. The chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), Dr Alain Gregoire, called the lack of resources for new mothers “an embarrassment for the NHS”. So whilst the new funding should evidently be warmly welcomed, it is unclear how much simply rectifying past cuts will help.
Furthermore, research by the young people’s mental health charity Young Minds found that “34 out of 51 (Two thirds) local authorities in England have reduced their CAMHS budget since 2010.” Anxieties over the lack of adequate resources for young people’s mental health services seemed to plague news stories during the Clegg-Cameron government, with mental health services for children and young people cut by £35 million last year. Not to mention recent series of headlines about young people being forced to sleep in prison cells owing to a lack of hospital beds available. Thankfully, mental health law reform has now made this practice illegal, yet it is still a stunning indictment of the state of mental health care that in the period 2012 – 2013 45% of under-18s detained under the 1983 Mental Health Act were assessed in cells, and not in a safe place, such as a hospital.
However, hopefully the necessity for shorter waiting lists and quicker treatment will be somewhat soothed by the new targets implemented for young people with eating disorders. As the government’s press release states, “anorexia kills more than any other mental health condition,” and it is no bad thing that Cameron is expanding services to accommodate this fact. Yet it may not be enough.
There is a chronic underfunding issue within English NHS mental health services. Despite Cameron’s rhetoric of encouraging the country to start having “frank discussions” about mental illness, he seems to lack a comprehensive understanding of the issue. It is simply patronising to make claims about decreasing stigma and supporting the vulnerable when the last government damaged the opportunities of so many who needed help in the past. Of course, there must be a push to improve social attitudes to mental health, by raising awareness and having more conversations, as Cameron stated. However there also needs to be an economic one as well. Without acknowledging the damage of, and indeed the true extent of, cuts to mental health services, Cameron’s latest proposal can only be taken with a large pinch of salt.