NHS spending on adult mental health services increased by 3.7 per cent in real terms last year to £5.5bn, but is still unequal between regions.

A report for the Department of Health by consultancy Mental Health Strategies praised the 15 per cent real terms increase in priority areas such as assertive outreach and early intervention. But variance between strategic health authority regions was a "continuing weakness".

Figures adjusted to reflect patient need and the higher cost of provision in some areas still showed NHS London spent most per head at£185 - 17 per cent higher than in NHS Yorkshire and the Humber and NHS North East, which both spent£158. The national average was£169.

The largest proportion of mental health spending went on clinical services and secure and high dependency inpatient facilities, making up just under 40 per cent of total spend.

The right direction

But Mental Health Foundation director of policy Simon Lawton-Smith welcomed signs that spending on community services was "going in the right direction", with a 10 per cent increase since 2006-07 in spending on psychological therapies. This equated to 3.6 per cent of total mental health spending in 2007-08.

Spending on mental health promotion doubled in the year, to£4m, but Mr Lawton-Smith said preventive services still did not match up to the priority they were given in the 1999 national service framework. "We are still a long way from good mental health promotion," he said.