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

The issue here is about moving from a block or lump of money to an outcome-based formula. One can then decide from an infinite number of ways how to administer the outcome-based funding formula, but the principle that mental health trusts are rewarded and financed for the outcomes they produce, rather than having some random, and often arbitrary and unjust, lump of money, is the fundamental point.

What is happening at the moment is that mental health budgets are, whether we like it or not, at risk of being raided to pay for the unsustainable deficits in acute health. In 2014-15 London’s health commissioners spent 12% of health expenditure on mental health, and in 2015-16 that fell to 11%. In other words, there was a transfer of money from mental health to acute trusts. That is completely the wrong direction of travel.

In 2012, to address this problem, the then coalition Government announced that we would pilot a new approach to mental health funding via what were called care clusters. They work in the following way: adults receiving care are assigned to one of 21 mental health clusters based on their needs, and services are then tailored on the basis of the needs of the people in each cluster and the effectiveness of the interventions on offer. Each cluster is then given a local price, and commissioners work out payments to the mental health trust based on how many patients fall into each cluster.

It is fearfully complex yet there is evidence that transferring the funding of mental health trusts from a block grant system to this care-cluster, outcome-based system has already yielded results. Recent research by the Independent Mental Health Services Alliance has found that mental health trusts operating under block contracts had more delayed discharges and more emergency readmissions than trusts operating without a block contract. Geraldine Strathdee, national clinical director for mental health, has agreed. She says that block grants

“do not facilitate access to timely evidence based care such as those set out in the new mental health access standards”,

and Monitor itself has been very critical indeed of block contracts:

“Despite the introduction of the care clusters, most local agreements still rely on simple block contracts. We believe that block payments…do not work in the interests of commissioners, providers and, most importantly, patients.”

Frustratingly, notwithstanding the decision in principle to shift the whole system to an outcome-based, care-cluster system and away from the punitive effect of the block contracts, 35 out of 62 NHS trusts are still providing mental health services using those block contracts.

Forgive the technocratic detour, but the devil really is in the detail, particularly if we want to close the gap between the much more aggressive aspirational rhetoric that finally has occupied the public and the political debate around mental health and the pressing need to get on and push the system in a radically different direction, not only because it is the right thing to do to end the outrageous discrimination—and it is discrimination, although it might not have been felt or expressed like that—that has existed against patients with mental health issues who have suffered in silence, alone and untreated for generations, but also because if we do not do that and do not make some of these fundamental changes the spiralling costs then placed on to the shoulders of the NHS will merely continue. This is a vital element in meeting the cross-party commission’s mandate to arrive at a new Beveridge-style, cross-party consensus on how to place the NHS on a long-term and sustainable footing.