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Head of NHS calls for extra money for mental health services

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i3397 (Published 17 June 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i3397
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. London

The head of the NHS in England has told MPs that more money is needed to help speed up improvements in mental health services.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, made the comments on 15 June during an evidence session of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee for its inquiry into improving access to mental health services. The catalyst for the inquiry was a report on preparations for improving access to mental health services published in April.1 The report, by the public spending watchdog the National Audit Office, said that although progress had been made “much remains to be done.”

MPs asked how, given that only around 12% of the NHS budget went to mental health services, the service would ever achieve “parity of esteem” between physical and mental health, as pledged by the government.2

Stevens said, “I don’t think we can accept the current budget situation. We want to put more money into mental health services. The money that will back the ‘best buys’ that the task force—the independent mental health task force that I set up and that reported in February—has laid out for us adds up to an incremental spend of around £1bn [€1.3bn; $1.4bn] a year.

“If we are putting that money in by 2020, then that will buy us a series of improvements, but frankly I regard that as the minimum necessary. If more funding were available, we would see a faster rate of progress in mental health services.”

Stevens said there was an ambition across the NHS to get equal respect and equal treatment for people with mental healthcare needs.

“In terms of the funding profile for the NHS and the speed at which we can put extra money into the National Health Service, that is a function of the funding available to the NHS overall. If the NHS had its way, then of course we would do more faster, but we don’t set the NHS budget.”

“Across the NHS it has been the squeaky wheel that has got the oil”—Simon Stevens

MPs asked what sacrifices might be needed to allow more spending on mental health. Stevens replied, “Part of the problem in mental health services is that across the NHS it has been the squeaky wheel that has got the oil.

“If you think about the large cost overruns in acute hospitals, there are understandable reasons for that, but it has had the effect of crowding out what would have been investment in mental health services and primary care.

“The reality is that this year we are going to have to have a reset on what some of the spending looks like in acute hospitals to free up some of the investment we need to make in mental health.”

The MPs also pressed Stevens on what would happen if the “need on the ground” for mental health services outstripped the planned budget. “The need on the ground already outstrips the budget and will still outstrip the expanded budget in 2020,” he replied.

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