Financial hardship heaps pressure onto mental health services

Benefits cuts have increased demand for mental health services, says report

Published on 11th March 2019

Benefits cuts and the impact of universal credit is placing pressure on NHS mental health services, NHS Providers has warned.

The report by NHS Providers reveals deep disquiet among NHS mental health trust leaders about a substantial care deficit resulting from the impact of growing social and economic hardship in their communities.

The deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said: "It is welcome that more people are seeking support for mental health problems. We have seen great strides in promoting equality between mental and physical health, but there is more to do.

"We need to be realistic about what services we are providing and when people are able to access the care they need and whether these are adequate to meet demand.

"Mental health leaders are clear that social and economic pressures are translating into higher demand for services. This demand is outstripping supply.

"Coupled with staff shortages and concerns that funding earmarked for mental health is not reaching the frontline, providers are worried about their ability to maintain the quality of services they can provide," she added.

While the report cites benefits cuts and the impact of universal credit as significant pressure on mental health services, it also suggests that loneliness, homelessness and financial hardship are contributing factors.

The report welcomes the ambitions for improving mental health services outlined in the NHS long term plan and the Five year forward view for mental health before it, together with increased investment to improve the quality, volume and accessibility of mental healthcare in England.

However, it also shows how demand for services is outstripping supply, and it concludes that the planned funding increase falls far short of the amount needed to close the gap between physical and mental health care.

Leaders from well over half over half (59%) of NHS mental health trusts took part in the survey which reveals that:

More than nine out of 10 said changes to benefits including universal credit are increasing demand for mental health services in their area.

- 97% pointed to increased loneliness and isolation.

- 95% indicated that homelessness was a factor.

- 98% cited financial hardship, and

- 91% pointed to cuts in local services.

Workforce shortages are also having an impact on mental health trusts' ability to meet demand and provide high quality care. Fewer than one in 10 were confident they currently have the staff they need. When asked about the numbers and skills of staff in two years time, nearly two thirds (62%) said they were very worried.

Furthermore, more than two thirds (69%) of mental health leaders were worried about maintaining the quality of the services they provide over the next two years.

The report calls for greater realism about the demand for mental health services and better planning with input from trusts, commissioners and national bodies. It also urges the development of a national workforce plan, with appropriate focus on the mental health workforce, to be published as soon as possible.The report adds that there should be a mechanism in place to guarantee funding reaches the frontline and urges action on key priorities including reducing out of area placements and meeting the capital investment needs for mental health providers.

Saffron Cordery added: "The NHS long term plan sets out a welcome vision for mental health services, but we need to see greater realism about the demand challenge mental health services face. We need to see urgent action to address the care deficit identified by the sector.

"This must come through measures to lock in funding for the sector, recruit and retain the specialist staff we need and ensure mental health and well-being services play a central role in the development of integrated care systems," she concluded.

NHS Providers is the membership organisation and trade association for the NHS acute, ambulance, community and mental health services that treat patients and service users in the NHS.

Mental health services: Addressing the care deficit

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