The Chancellor’s announcement of a much-needed front-loaded £6 billion of funding for the NHS is welcome but we would urge caution to those who think that this will achieve much more than allowing services to stand still.
With a deficit of £2.2 billion to clear alongside tough efficiency targets and additional costs, such as £1.1 billion in pension costs next year, there will be significant challenges for the NHS just to stand still.
The promise of £600 million specifically for mental health as part of this is a very welcome move towards reflecting the major role mental health plays in our health economy.
Any and all progress made towards fair and equal funding for mental health will help providers to meet increasing demand, provide world-class care to patients and deliver – in real terms – the government’s commitment to parity of esteem. It will be crucial that there are transparent arrangements to ensure new funds reach the front line.
Today’s announcement of a bolstering of the Better Care Fund, in order to improve integration between health and social care, is refreshing. We do however lament the absence of proportionate, whole system investment that would transform mental health services.
Mental health care is, after all, not just delivered in hospitals – in fact patients have better outcomes if they are treated in the community and social care providers are absolutely critical to those services.
While NHS budgets are protected, the burden of harsh cuts to local authority spend in recent years have been felt across the entire mental healthcare system, in communities and in hospitals.
The introduction of the new precept to allow local authorities to add a levy of up to 2% to council tax – to be allocated exclusively for adult social care – will not, we fear, help to raise sufficient funds to counteract historic cuts in this sector and meet increased demand.