Nick Clegg has told the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference the government will spend an extra £250m a year for five years on child and adolescent mental health services.
The funding increase is set to be announced in the budget on Wednesday. It is unclear at this stage how the increase will be funded and distributed.
An investment of £80m this year ahead of new mental health access targets was criticised by providers after around half was allocated from existing budgets with the remainder coming from NHS England.
The government has been accused within the sector for not following through on its rhetoric on mental health, as trusts have reported year on year real terms funding cuts.
An HSJ investigation last year found that mental health trusts suffered a 2.3 per cent real terms funding cut between 2011-12 and 2013-14, when figures were adjusted for inflation.
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Last month three mental health trust chief executives told HSJ their commissioners were disregarding national guidance requiring them to increase real terms spending on mental health in 2015-16.
Speaking to the conference yesterday, the deputy prime minister said: “This huge expansion - £1.25bn over the course of the next parliament - will help around 110,000 children; children who at the moment are being let down by the system.
“It’s an institutionalised form of cruelty, the way we allow vulnerable children with mental health problems to basically have to fend for themselves at the moment.
“This big announcement I’m making is going to seek to change that. It won’t happen overnight, it will happen over the coming years.
“It’s all part of a journey where we start, as a country, lifting the stigma that has surrounded mental health and making sure that we treat mental health in the same way as we do people with physical health problems.”
The investment follows severe cuts in child and adolescent mental health services.
Answering a question in Parliamentary from shadow heath secretary Andy Burnham in January, mental health minister Norman Lamb revealed spending on CAMHS services had seen substantial real terms cuts according to the programme budget data from NHS England.
This showed budgets had fallen by 4.5 per cent from £751m in 2010-11 to £717m in 2012-13. Data for 2013-14 was not included but the overall real terms decline in mental health spending during this period has been around 3.3 per cent.
Dr Hilary Cass, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: “Children and young peoples’ mental health services have been the Cinderella service for far too long.
“So [this] funding announcement is very welcome indeed, providing a much needed boost to a cash strapped service. It’s great to see that government is listening to the messages about the importance of investing in children’s mental health.
“It is, however, vital that we never allow a repeat of the chronic underfunding we have seen, so we very much hope that the government will commit to collect regular data on the prevalence of mental health conditions so we can plan services effectively for the future.”