Overall spending on adult mental health services has fallen in real terms for the first time in a decade.
After inflation, expenditure fell by 1 per cent in 2011-12, dropping by £65m to £6.63bn, according to reports published by the Department of Health with little fanfare last week.
Older people’s mental health was hit hardest, seeing a real-terms spending decrease of 3.1 per cent to £2.83bn in 2011-12.
The fall in funding comes despite the prime minister’s “dementia challenge” to deliver improvements in care and the government’s commitment to give mental health parity in importance with physical health.
When it came to mental health’s three traditional priority areas, spending on crisis resolution and outreach services fell, while early intervention reported a rise. Meanwhile, spending on psychological therapies rose by six per cent to £386m.
The reductions are revealed in two separate financial mapping reports commissioned by the DH from the Mental Health Strategies consultancy,
Total spending has increased by 59 per cent in real terms over the decade since 2001-02, with 2011-12 the only year to see a fall.
Five strategic health authority areas saw reductions in spending on adult mental health while five either maintained or increased spending.
NHS South Central saw the largest drop, a real-terms fall of 5.3 per cent while the East Midlands saw the largest rise with a 4.6 per cent real terms increase.
Seven SHAs saw a reduction in real terms spending on older people’s mental health, with the biggest cut of 13 per cent in the North East. NHS Yorkshire and the Humber saw the highest rise at six per cent.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said the reports showed a “worrying trend”.
“We know during difficult economic times mental health is an easy target for cuts,” he said. “Given that mental health services have historically been under-funded it is hard to see how a reduction in real term spending will lead to mental and physical health being on a level.”
Emma Stanton, chief executive of mental health consultancy Beacon UK, said: “These reports identify variation in funding across SHAs but do not tell us about variation in outcomes for patients.
“As responsibility for mental health commissioning transfers to CCGs, it seems likely that greater variation in funding decisions will result.”
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the reports showed the “consequences” of David Cameron’s “broken promise” on funding the NHS.
The Labour MP said: “Under pressure, the NHS is reverting to its default position and relegating mental health to the margins. This is the wrong response. Even within a reduced NHS budget, the demands of 21st century living require that mental health is made a bigger priority.
“Ministers need to start putting their money where their mouth is. They must urgently send the clearest of signals to the NHS that mental health is a spending priority.”
A spokesman for the DH refused to comment on the real-terms decrease in spending. He highlighted areas where spending had increased, adding: “We know we need to continue to improve the commissioning of mental health services.”