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Burstow admits to budget cuts

Former health minister Paul Burstow has admitted there were cuts to mental health services under his watch at the Department of Health.

The Liberal Democrat MP - whose ministerial brief covered mental health - said there was “anecdotal evidence” of a drop in funding.

He made the comments in an interview with HSJ, following his replacement in the ministerial reshuffle earlier this month.

HSJ reported figures last month which showed total mental health spending had dropped by £65m - or 1 per cent - to £6.6bn in 2011-12, the first decrease in a decade.

Official spending figures showed there had been a particular decrease in crisis resolution and outreach funding but a rise for early intervention services.

Asked about the reduction, Mr Burstow said: “I will not pretend that there are not places where services have been cut and there has been a diminution of service.

“There is anecdotal evidence that there are places that will have made that kind of service reduction, but others have re-engineered their services to be delivered in the community.”

He said the picture was mitigated by increased investment in talking therapies and the improving access to psychological therapies programme.

Mr Burstow also told HSJ the Liberal Democrats would not support regional pay deals for NHS staff - such as that currently proposed by a group of trusts in the South West, where the party has several MPs.

The government has not condemned the South West plans. But Mr Burstow told HSJ: “It’s being portrayed as some further great fix to our economic woes. We don’t share the Conservatives’ views on that and we will be very clearly opposing that as it goes along.”

He also said he planned to present - independently of government - a series of options for how the Dilnot proposals for reforming long-term social care funding could be paid for. The estimated annual cost of the proposals, which would cap individuals’ contributions, is £1.7bn.

The MP for Sutton and Cheam also reiterated his opposition to proposals to downgrade St Helier Hospital, which serves his constituency, and has called the review that led to the plans “flawed”.

He said: “There has been some attempt to portray this as a classic knee-jerk local MP approach but it’s not just my plucked out of the air view.”

Asked if he would ever support a process that identified a St Helier downgrade as the best option, Mr Burstow said he would not, barring “a dramatic expansion in primary care or breakthrough in diagnostics, and none of those things are in the realms of possibility as far as I can see”.

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