At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, David Cameron was asked about funding for mental health services.
Or, from Number 10:
It’s an interesting answer, because last year the Department of Health and NHS England claimed mental health funding rose from £11.4bn in 2013-14 to £11.7bn in 2014-15. Cameron’s answer suggested ‘this financial year’ (which I’d interpreted as 15-16) funding would drop to £11.4bn – a 2.5% cut.
This morning I asked the Department of Health about Cameron’s answer. I was told by ‘this financial year’, the Prime Minister was actually referring to 2014-15. The 2014-15 financial year ended in March. We’re now in November.
I was also told the figure Cameron referred to should have actually been £11.7bn (apparently there’s an extra £300m).
So, I asked, we can report that the government now knows that £11.7bn was spent on mental health in 2014-15? Not so, I was told. The £11.7bn was just the expected spend for 14-15. Neither DH nor NHS England know yet if that expectation was met.
Yet you wouldn’t know it from the media statement below. It was released back in July to rebuff an ITV News story on figures, obtained via FOI, revealing mental health budget cuts:
The spin and lack of transparency around mental health funding is shocking. It makes it almost impossible to hold government to account on promises it has made to improve care in this part of the NHS. Promises, it should be said, which ministers have accepted plenty of plaudits for.
And a lot of this stems back to a decision to axe the only survey of national mental health spending in 2013. A decision taken after the survey revealed the first fall in funding for a decade. The survey may well have had flaws. Yet it wasn’t a costly exercise and at least offered a comparative baseline.
In the absence of any replacement, we’re left with a situation where not even the Prime Minister knows how much his government spent on mental health last year but is happy to make claims that – with a bit of probing – don’t stack up.