What Does the Extra $1.4 Billion Invested in the UK's Mental Health Services Actually Mean?

Have we turned a corner in Britain's mental health crisis?

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Feb 15 2016, 8:40pm

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

On Monday, it was reported that the NHS has pledged to invest in excess of £1 billion [$1.4 billion] extra annually in mental health by 2020-21. According to the Guardian, people facing mental health problems will be able to get community care 24 hours a day as part of what will potentially be the biggest transformation of NHS mental health services for a generation. This news couldn't come soon enough. Over the last few years, the extent of Britain's mental health crisis has been slowly and painfully drip fed to us with stats that've almost desensitized us as a public body. This positive development comes as a response to a damning leaked report into mental health services in the UK held by an independent task force last week.

The report painted a picture of a system in tatters. It revealed that one in four people experience mental health problems over the course of a year while the number of people killing themselves is soaring. Sick children are being sent "almost anywhere in the country for treatment" and three-quarters of those with psychiatric conditions are not being helped. A quarter of people with severe mental health problems need more than is currently on offer and many are at serious risk of self-neglect. Worryingly, there has been a 10 percent increase in the number of people sectioned under the Mental Health Act over just the past year. Undoubtedly, this is a system that routinely fails the entire country.

The report's bottom line: ministers needed to find an extra £1.2 billion [$1.7 billion] a year for mental health services by 2020. This £1 billion pledged by the NHS, then, is not enough. But it's something. Is this cause for celebration? What will this £1 billion really mean for a devastated service?

Currently, £9.2 billion [$13.3 billion] is spent on mental health services—less than a tenth of the overall NHS budget. This has been decreasing dramatically over recent years. Mental health trusts saw a real-terms fall in budgets of more than 8 percent between 2010 and 2015, as reported by the BBC. On Sunday, the BBC revealed that 2015 budgets fell 2 per cent when adjusted for inflation in the financial year. When you take this into consideration, the £1 billion pledged barely makes up for cuts made in the first place.

Paul Farmer, chair of the report and chief executive at MIND, however, is positive that this money, along with the "landmark" report, will ensure "another one million people" receive improved support. Speaking to VICE, he said that MIND is pleased with the pledged amount as it is based on the recommendation in the report. "The fact that the NHS and government are committing to that figure is really important; it's a significant step. What needs to happen now is that it's worked up over a period of time. Some of the people you need to have in place to deliver these services have to be trained so there's a period of time to get to where we need to be. But it does mean that by the time we get to 2021, the NHS will be spending a billion pounds a year extra on mental health, which is big news."

An obvious problem here: those suffering need help now. But it's impossible to fix something overnight. Will the money start getting spent sooner? "Yeah exactly," said Paul. "Some pieces of work will start from the new financial year in April. Our recommendations around children and mental health will start immediately. We know there is £250 million [$360 million] available in this coming year that hasn't been spent to invest in that. Other services need more time so we've got the right standards of people in place in order to deliver them. It's one of those situations where we want the services to be there as quickly as possible."

Paul hopes that the report will mean a focus on transparency for the future so that things can't be allowed to get as drastic again. "What happened previously was that at a national level we're told money is being provided but at a local level people just aren't seeing that money, so there's something going wrong there. Money wasn't flowing down the system... One of the things we're calling for is knowledge about where that money is going and how it's spent on mental health."

Paul is optimistic this money represents a fresh slate. "This is all about a chance of mindset within the NHS. The priority for mental health here is very transparent. I haven't seen a level of commitment to mental health like this before from the NHS or government."

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