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.
Full article in The Guardian 9 May 2016