Mental Health Services ‘Soft Targets’ For Funding Cuts – Report

A leading charity has welcomed a Parliamentary report warning ‘soft targets’ such as mental health services should not suffer as a consequence of the financial crisis within the NHS. The Health Select Committee study, published today, said mental health services should not be targeted for disproportionate cuts.

The charity Rethink claimed mental health services are seen as a ‘soft touch’ by Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) needing to balance their books and urged the Government to step in to stop mental health budgets being slashed. It says the cuts have been made not as a result of inefficiency within the mental health services, but to bail out other areas of the NHS going into overspend.

The committee’s report, NHS Deficits, found evidence of ‘a failure of financial management’ within the NHS leading to cuts which have had a demoralising effect on staff.

NHS deficits stood at £520 million last year but Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has promised budgets will be balanced by the end of this financial year.

In her evidence to the cross-party committee, Ms Hewitt admitted mental health nurses’ training was suffering in her own Leicester constituency because of the PCT’s deficit.

The report found there was ‘a significant step back in the provision of mental health services’ affecting the Government’s reform programmes, such as Choosing Health and the National Service Framework for Mental Health.

Researchers said there have also been cuts to psychological therapies, even for people part way through treatment.

Rethink director of public affairs, Paul Corry, said: “This Health Select Committee report highlights a shocking truth: mental health has been seen as a ‘soft touch’ by NHS staff needing to balance their books. Rethink’s own reports into these cutbacks put the cost to mental health at more than £60 million. Yet until now the government has denied that mental health has been disproportionately targeted.

“The Department of Health must listen now and stop denying the facts we have been reporting to it since November 2005. Mental health needs to be included in the ‘Selbie 6’, the list of six key national priorities for the NHS, to make it more than just a paper priority. Services and staff alike need proper investment to help make the Government’s modernisation plans a reality.”