The decision to devote £1bn a year more to mental health services by 2020-21 is a welcome sign that this area of treatment is finally getting fuller recognition within the NHS. Not only are mental health services underfunded, but that underfunding actually pushes up costs elsewhere in the health system. Patients risk more complications, needing longer treatment, if their physical illnesses are compounded by mental health problems. Moreover, the knock-on effects for their employment, their families and their living conditions means that there are huge costs for society as a whole if mental health is not treated seriously.
The taskforce has come up with a list of 58 areas where the new funding can be used, notably by expanding talking cures, early intervention and crisis care. Followed through, these are intended to bring down suicide rates by 10%, and may actually deliver some savings in areas such as emergency care.
The plans are ambitious, though, and rely on overcoming recruitment problems in order to deliver 24 hour services. Moreover, the £1bn a year – some of which actually comes from existing commitments – will have to fit into the overall NHS funding plan that calls for efficiency savings. There is also little discussion of how the funding increases will fit with the prolonged cuts in local authority budgets, particularly for social services that feed into mental health.