Mental health patients are at risk due to budget cuts, says the leading think tank, King’s Fund, who are calling for an end to cost cutting within the mental health care sector in a bid to reverse the widespread decline in the quality of care.
A study revealed that less than a fifth of people said that they felt they received appropriate support in a crisis and hospital bed occupancy rates are also routinely exceeding recommended levels – leading to patients being sent to units many miles away from their home. There has also been a general rise in the number of people reporting a poor experience of mental health care within the community.
One woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, stated that her suicidal father was taken by ambulance staff to a mental health café, a place where people were meant to talk about their problems, since they could not find him a hospital bed.
“It’s certainly not appropriate for somebody who is very suicidal. In fact it’s not safe to take someone like that to a café. They need to be in hospital, their life is at risk. They need to be treated by medical staff as you would anybody with a serious health condition” she said.
Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, said it had become a subject that was repeatedly discussed but with little action to help those who needed it most.
“It’s become a spectator sport now with every one from the Prime Minister to NHS England standing on the sidelines talking about what should happen whist local services aren’t seeing any new funding and in fact, are being cut,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
While the organisation said a lack of robust data made it difficult to draw a conclusion on the state of the sector, it warned that cost-cutting measures, including ‘transformation programmes’, could be linked to poor patient care.
“These transformation programmes have usually resulted in costs reductions and have prevented many mental health providers from falling into deficit. This may have come at the expense of patient care. There is evidence of increased variation in care and reduced access to services as a result of the changes,” King’s Fund said.
The body has warned of negative effects from further funding cuts, reporting that 40% of trusts had their budgets reduced in the past two financial years.
But ministers said overall the amount of money being made available for mental health had been increased – by £300m last year to £11.7bn – and improvements were being made by steps such as the introduction of waiting-time targets as part of the drive to achieve “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health services.
“There is a clear need for mental health services to focus on using evidence to improve practice and reduce variations in care. However, it is essential that this is underpinned by stable funding, with no more cuts to budgets.” King’s Fund said.