NHS cuts in England are falling on older people’s and mental health services as trusts battle to clear overall deficits of £900m, it was claimed this week.
The Royal College of Nursing said resources were being diverted from services for vulnerable groups to help meet government acute care targets, as it produced evidence from across England on where the cuts were biting.
And charity Rethink said mental health services faced cuts of at least £30m across up to 30 areas.
The RCN claimed that more than 13,000 job losses had been announced by trusts over the past two months. It said: “The evidence suggests that health services and staff working to support older adult patients, those with long-term conditions or who have mental health needs are being squeezed.”
It said cuts in London had affected services designed to prevent hospital admissions, while community and specialist older people’s beds in eastern England had been slashed without corresponding investment in social care.
In one part of central and southern England, beds for older people with mental health needs have been cut. In another, 80 community beds have been lost in just three months and community mental health nurses have been told to cut caseloads.
Help the Aged attacked cuts in specialist palliative care nurses, also cited by the RCN.
Help the Aged policy manager Jonathan Ellis said: “When more, not less specialist palliative care is needed, cutbacks to staff with professional training in those areas will only exacerbate existing problems in health care delivery.”
Rethink’s director of campaigns and communication, Paul Corry, said the mental health cuts were resulting in psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses losing their jobs and services closing.
The charity’s figures include cuts made this year and last and include some local authority funding.
Health minister Rosie Winterton told parliament last week that only 11 out of 84 mental health provider trusts made reductions, totalling £16.5m, to planned budgets in 2005-6. She pointed out that the figure amounted to less than 0.3 per cent of the total £6bn investment for the year.
A King’s Fund briefing this week estimated gross NHS deficits for 2005-6 as £900m, 58 per cent of which was accounted for by hospitals and 37 per cent by primary care trusts.
The think-tank said many of the trusts concerned had had underlying deficits for years, but the destabilisingeffect of government reforms such as payment by results had the potential to make these worse.