On the surface, the UK government’s pledge of £500 million in support of mental health services sounds like a positive step for the sector and the people who rely on their provision.
After ten years of austerity and a continual shaving of budgets for healthcare services, is this enough to IMPROVE services for users?
Or is it just a sticking plaster? Are we just shielding a crisis caused by the government’s policy of underfunding for our essential public services?
Did austerity compromise our NHS and the services it provides? Have we had to plough in what was saved just to prevent collapse? Was austerity a false economy?
In this article, we’ll explore how the government will spend that £500 million. We’ll look at what has prompted the government to bring mental health into the funding agenda. And we’ll examine how the NHS is surviving as a result of 2020’s health crisis.
What is the cost of mental health?
UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, claims that “mental ill-health” costs the country up to £35 billion each year. So – while £500 million sounds like a tasty political soundbite – it’s an increase of 1.4% on the standard budget for mental health; unlikely to scrape the sides of the barrel.
Sunak acknowledges that the pandemic has “had a major impact on mental health”. He puts this down to job insecurity, concern for the broader economy, and increased isolation.
Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, however, suggests that Sunak is using spending to “avoid a return to a broken NHS which allowed the UK to be so heavily impacted by the pandemic”.
Let’s unpack that a little. The population was asked to stay at home to support the NHS. Had the NHS been adequately funded in the first place, perhaps we would have had greater capacity. And we could have prevented the disruption to the broader economy.
Of course, most countries impacted heavily by Coronavirus have locked down their populations to prevent the spread of the disease. And, perhaps, few public healthcare systems are genuinely equipped to deal with the surge of capacity we’ve seen in 2020.
But did underfunding worsen the impact on the UK? Compare the Coronavirus response of Germany, which spends 11% of its GDP on healthcare provision and has had 17,659 deaths (correct on the date of publishing). During the 2010s, the UK spent around 8.8% of GDP on healthcare, and we have had 59,699 deaths (depending on the figures you rely on).
How much has austerity saved?
Annual funding for the NHS increased by 1.4% (on average) between 2009 to 2018.
Historically, funding has grown by an annual average of 3.7% since the NHS was established; leaving a deficit of 1.6% for the ten years preceding the CoronaCrisis.
In 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a five-year funding deal that would increase funding for the NHS by £33.9 billion in cash terms (without adjustments for inflation). This rate of increase is closer to the long-term average – but it’s still lower.
Then, with the pandemic, the government was forced to inject over £50 billion into health and care services. This figure includes PPE, mass testing, vaccine procurement, and the controversial Test and Trace system).
With a further £20 billion planned for 2021/22, this exceeds the projected mental health budget for NHS spending according to Theresa May’s five-year plan.
While it’s difficult to say with any certainty how much the government has “saved” the UK economy during the years of austerity, it’s clear that when the pandemic hit, the NHS was at breaking point and needed a fast injection of cash to cope with the crisis.
Of course, 2020 has been an exceptional year. But, was austerity worth it? Has it saved the UK any money at all? Was it all a false economy?
How will our £500 million support the people who need it?
In the grand scheme of things – when we’re talking about budgets of billions – it’s easy to see how £500 million is a drop in the ocean. After all, the government bailed out an obscure satellite operator, OneWeb, with little chance of a return on investment, to the tune of £500 million in July 2020.
The majority of the fund will be allocated to specialist services for young people, including provision within education and additional support for NHS workers. The remainder of the fund will support services dedicated to adults in need of mental health support. There’s little clarity on precise figures.
But is this adequate, bearing in mind that adults in work support the economy?
A recent study reported that 20% of coronavirus patients had been subsequently diagnosed with a mental health condition (for the first time in their lives).
According to Mind, £500 million is significantly short of the need. They claim that the increased demand for mental health services due to the pandemic is likely to exceed £1 billion a year for the next three years. Only just 6 month’s worth of the budget needed for mental health.
We welcome change
While SupportRoom welcomes the increased focus on mental health support for the UK population, we fear that we’re heading for a mental health crisis.
The ten-year underfunding of the NHS left the nation pitifully underprepared for the impact of Coronavirus. Is £500 million a piecemeal contribution for the effects to come? Only time can tell whether the current allocated budget for mental health with suffice.
SupportRoom is here to help
SupportRoom is here to change the way people access mental health support. We believe that no-one should suffer in silence.
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SupportRoom is a digital behavioural healthcare technology platform for individuals who need confidential, professional mental health support and for businesses through a digital EAP solution. We connect our members with licensed therapists in real-time, providing on-going round-the-clock support.
SupportRoom’s EAP solution provides deep analytics, helping organisations identify where and why employees are affected by mental health issues. This enables them to support and improve mental health across their workforce.
Our platform connects individual clients with a network of licensed therapists through an easy to use & HIPAA compliant, web & mobile platform. Clients can send text, videos & voice messages anytime and from anywhere. Our innovative technology has been recognised in the 101 Best UK Startups founded in 2020.