NHS and Social Care Commission

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:10 pm on 28th January 2016.

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Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg Liberal Democrat, Sheffield, Hallam 2:10 pm, 28th January 2016

I stand corrected. Anyway, it was not £250 million.

There may be perfectly explicable teething problems. The announcement was made in the spring of last year, and it will have been necessary for all the mental health trusts to shift gear. However, I hope that the Minister—or, if not him, the commission—will ensure that not only future mental health reforms but previous commitments are delivered and funded in full. The £250 million that has not been delivered over the last year needs to be made up for between now and the end of this Parliament.

My second point concerns the importance of prevention —in all areas of health, obviously, but perhaps especially in mental health. The need for better prevention measures was one of the key findings of the mental health taskforce’s public engagement exercise, yet there has been little if any mention of it in recent Government announcements. Mind, the mental health campaign and policy group, has established that local authorities spend just 1% of their public health budgets on the prevention of mental ill health. That is £40 million out of a total budget of £3.3 billion. Yet we all know—even if we are not clinical experts, we know as parents, and as human beings—that intervening early to improve child and adolescent mental health avoids so much illness, so much heartache, and, to be candid, so much cost to society thereafter. Half of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14, and 75% of children and young people who have a mental health problem do not get access to the treatment they need.

Waiting times are still far too long. Average waiting times for CAMHS is two months—and as yet there are no waiting time standards in children, adolescent and mental health services. I think we all know, and I certainly accept it, that as we try to revolutionise the approach to mental health, the waiting time standards that have already been announced need to be spread and extrapolated to other parts of the service. Members have talked about the need to reconcile and bring together social care and healthcare, and if we want to put the NHS on a financially sustainable footing, which is the purpose of the cross-party commission, we also need to understand that the lack of prevention and of early intervention on mental health problems is one of the biggest drivers for subsequent inflated costs on the NHS budget. It is therefore essential that the commission looks at this as well.

Thirdly—and arguably most importantly, and also perhaps most technocratically complex—is the issue about the formula or mechanism by which mental health is funded. The problem is that for as long as anyone can remember mental health trusts have been funded according to block grants, through a lump sum of money given to them by some varying formula, while other NHS trusts—acute trusts—are paid on a per patient, per outcome, per recovery basis. That of course is deeply unfair, because it means that any time any Secretary of State for Health, Chancellor or NHS boss needs to make savings, the easiest thing to do is quietly shave a little money off that block grant, as no one really notices it —it does not stick out like a sore thumb like other financial cuts do—and that is precisely what has been happening. That is one reason why—even in recent years, however much new and welcome emphasis there has been on the priority mental health should have in the NHS—the basic funding formula or mechanism constantly discriminates against mental health trusts.