Mental health trusts are pressing the government to look at fresh ways of protecting services given predicted activity increases and the lack of a national tariff.

Trusts were responding to the Department of Health’s consultation on New Horizons, which will frame the next decade of mental health policy.

There is a risk that mental health services will experience a greater proportional reduction in spending than other services, at the same time as demand increases

The Mental Health Network’s response also emphasises the need to work with bodies outside the NHS. This could involve improving parenting skills, urban regeneration, employment and educational initiatives.

It says: “We need a fresh way of government approaching the challenge of improving whole mental wellbeing across government. This is not a challenge the Department of Health can deliver on by itself.”

Suggestions include giving mental health a high priority in the quality and outcomes framework, improving clinicians’ training, direct payments and improving access for minority groups.

South London and Maudsley Mental Health Foundation Trust’s response also says value for money could be improved if GPs stopped prescribing anti-depressants for mild depression.

Trust head of mental health promotion Tony Coggins told HSJ there was a “real danger” primary care trusts facing tough decisions would cut mental health promotion budgets.

Mental health and wellbeing need to be treated as a cross-government issue, he said, but taking resources from mental health problems in a recession and putting it towards wellbeing would be wrong. He said the fact that there would be no national tariff before 2013-14, and the difficulty of measuring the quality of mental health commissioning, left services “vulnerable”.

The response states: “There is a risk that mental health services will experience a greater proportional reduction in spending than other services, at the same time as demand increases.”

HSJ’s conference on Commissioning Mental Health and Wellbeing is on 28 January 2010. For details see www.hsj-mhcommissioning.com