The phrase “parity of esteem” when used to describe the treatment of mental health services in the NHS is rightly being put under the microscope. It has been widely used to communicate a commitment to improving quality, broadening access to services and boosting funding. However, recently it has become clear that there is a gap between this intention and the reality on the ground.
Our report, Funding Mental Health at Local Level: Unpicking the Variation, published in partnership with the Healthcare Financial Management Association, shows just that, and it makes for difficult reading. Despite a number of funding boosts, it is clear that the necessary investment just isn’t reaching frontline mental health services. Our survey found that only half of mental health trusts received a real-term increase last year, despite the fact that the commissioners who fund them were required to increase their investment in line with their overall financial allocation.
Particularly concerning is the finding that NHS England is not necessarily leading by example. It is responsible for setting the rules and for holding local commissioners to account for their spending plans, yet its own specialised commissioning teams are not consistently meeting parity of esteem commitments towards mental health services, with only a third of trusts receiving a real-terms increase in 2015–16.
The situation does not look like it will improve this year either. Although we are still concluding the contracting round for 2016–17, providers were even less positive about receiving additional investment, with only a quarter confident that they would see a real-term increase.
There are just too many claims on the additional money given to commissioners, which means parity of esteem does not get equal treatment. However, this is not a justification for letting commissioners, both local and national, off the hook for investing in mental health services, not least because they are required to do this. Also, investment in these services has the potential to alleviate other pressures on their budget. For example, people with mental ill health use more emergency care – they have over three times more A&E attendances and almost five times more admissions. Supporting people with mental health conditions more quickly and effectively isn’t just necessary for improving services, it also ensures that we are maximising the value of the constrained NHS budget.http://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-n ... -they-needhttp://www.theguardian.com/society/2016 ... ays-report