Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, delivered the 2019 budget ahead of the normal schedule to avoid clashing with the UK’s EU exit negotiations. A notable entry in the 2019 budget was the inclusion of a £2bn funding boost for mental healthcare services in the UK. Today we dig a little deeper into the UK’s mental healthcare environment and ask why “Spreadsheet Phil” is earmarking £2bn for mental health.

Mental Health – A Long-Neglected Branch of the NHS? 

The pledge to provide £2bn for mental health services is arguably both a statement of intent from the government and an acknowledgement that it’s spent too long at the bottom of the list of priorities in the UK. Statistics seem to confirm as much, with a report (titled: Fair Funding for Mental Health) from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) stating that “those who are living with severe mental illness are expected to die between 15-20 years earlier than those without.” Along with those shocking statistics about average life expectancy, the report highlighted how many still “suffer in silence”, meaning that the real impact on both a personal and public level may be difficult to gauge. 

Beyond the personal impacts, mental health concerns, like other diseases, result in significant damage to the economy; the report from IPPR found that mental healthcare illnesses cost the economy “about £100 billion every year – the same as the cost of the entire NHS.” People suffering from such ailments are more likely to be unemployed, “leading to more people dependent on the welfare state and fewer people paying taxes.” But while other diseases have been acknowledged, managed and actively diminished, mental health has been left behind (perhaps due to its invisible nature) and is now the biggest burden of disease in the UK (22.8%), followed by cardiovascular disease (16.2%) and cancer (15.9%). 

What Does £2bn Get You in Mental Healthcare? 

Before we discuss what £2bn gets you in mental healthcare, let’s contextualise spending. £9.4bn was the estimated spend on cancer care in the UK in 2017, and £27.7bn was the estimated spend for secondary schools across the UK. An extra £2bn is a significant amount, but what does it get you?  

According to a Guardian report, “the commitment should lead to comprehensive mental health support being available in every large A&E department” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to this increased support, the funding will also allow for increased community services, mental health ambulances, “specialist crisis teams linking schools, social services and young people’s mental health services,” along with placing trained staff in schools. 

Is £2bn Enough?

Currently, £12bn is invested in mental healthcare in the UK each year – an additional £2bn “will go to mental health services by 2023-24.” At this point, it is important to talk about the wider government aims for mental healthcare – what does the Department of Health and Social Care need to accomplish with this extra cash? According to the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, the aim is to create a “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health. Unfortunately, no clear definition was presented when this “parity of esteem” was introduced into government policy; is it parity of spending? Parity of dedicated mental health staff numbers? The vagueness of this term has and continues to allow “politicians to profess a commitment to it without being held accountable for specific deliverables.” The IPPR suggested the following as a definition: “‘People living with a mental health condition must have an equal chance of a long and fulfilling life as those with a physical health condition’.” Will £2bn allow for this definition of “parity”? 

Speaking with the Guardian, IPPR Research Harry Quilter-Pinner said that achieving “parity of esteem” would need “£4.1bn by 2023-24”, over double the amount pledged by Philip Hammond in the budget. The IPPR report went into further detail on where they suggest investment should go: early interventions for children and young people are needed to further support those in the most vulnerable period of their lives; access should be improved for the treatment of common mental health conditions; community care should be developed for people with severe mental illness; and 24/7 crisis care should be available for people living with poor mental health. 

Mental health illnesses affect one in four people in the UK; will the £2bn pledged over the next five years help reduce this number, or will the NHS once again be left short-changed by policy? Likewise, will the government provide explicit aims, along with a definition for “parity of esteem”, so those in power can be held accountable? Be sure to subscribe to our email campaigns for updates on the health and social care industry.  

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