Referring to the already announced £20.5bn increase for the NHS over the next five years in his budget statement today, the Chancellor Mr Hammond told the House of Commons, “There are many pressing demands on additional NHS funding but few more pressing than the needs of those who suffer from mental illness".
He explained that the NHS 10 Year plan will include "a new mental health crisis service", with "comprehensive mental health support available in every major A&E", as well as "children and young people’s crisis teams in every part of the country". Mr Hammond promised "more mental health ambulances", more “safe havens in the community" and a 24-hour mental health crisis hotline.
It is encouraging that mental health has featured so strongly in the announcements. Campaigners, advocates and champions have worked tirelessly over many years to raise the profile of mental health and to secure additional resources.
The £2 billion investment for mental health is a welcome step in the right direction for an area that has been historically underfunded but there is still room to go for equality to be reached. In 2016 the Mental Health Taskforce reported that whilst mental ill health accounts for 23 per cent of the disease burden, spending accounts for just 11 per cent of the NHS budget. So, if we truly want to see parity of esteem between physical and mental health reflected in funding, as the Institute for Public Policy highlight in their report, Fair funding for mental health: Putting parity into practice, still more needs to be invested.
And it goes without saying, I hope that we cannot simply keep investing in crisis care alone. Prevention and early intervention is vital if we are truly going to improve the mental health of the nation. Interventions must start early with a strong focus on the young in schools, colleges and universities so we can change our culture, reduce stigma and encourage help seeking behaviours.
At Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, through MHFA training we work to support a whole system approach to mental health prevention. Our training helps build the knowledge, skills and confidence to start conversations about mental health and signpost to sources of support.
For our work to be effective, those support services must be in place and readily accessible for those who need them in a timely fashion.
Having been earmarked for mental health in the budget, we now need to make sure this funding is protected for mental health in the NHS budget.