Changes to the tariff “discriminate” against mental health trusts, the Mental Health Network has warned.

The 2011 operating framework, signalled the expansion of the scope of the tariff, which applies to procedures commissioned in the NHS and covers roughly half of hospital income.

The framework set out how the tariff would be cut in cash terms by 1.5 per cent in 2011-12 compared with the current financial year, saying the same cut should be applied to non tariff services.

However, Mental Health Network director Steve Shrubb told HSJ that providers who have block contracts with commissioners were now “seriously vulnerable” to cuts.

In the recent past, hospital providers have counter acted real terms cuts in tariff prices by increasing the volume of their activity. Mr Shrubb pointed out that option was not available to providers working on block contacts.

He said: “Payments for mental health services should be put on the same footing as other NHS services in order to avoid unnecessary hardship.

“The operating framework proposes changes to the tariff which discriminates against mental health services. The block contracts in mental health are now seriously vulnerable to across the board cuts.”

He said the situation made the introduction of a tariff for mental health services even more urgent.

“Without a plan to move to a tariff more quickly, mental health services and the people who rely on them run the serious risk that an already difficult situation of reductions in social care and benefits, increased demand to find jobs when none are available and unprecedented efficiency savings becomes even more challenging,” he said.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “It is wrong to suggest that mental health services are “seriously vulnerable” to cuts. We have been clear that any services not covered by the tariff should base their pricing on the same -1.5 per cent rate as the tariff itself.

“The Coalition has made a commitment to developing currencies for adult mental health services for use from 2012-13, with a view to introducing tariffs in future years, and work is underway to make this happen.”