• Mental Health Taskforce chair Paul Farmer said the upcoming long-term funding settlement for the NHS is a “major opportunity” to reset the mental health agenda
  • He said it must focus on prevention, treatment, recovery and health inequalities and include “significant” new investment
  • Mr Farmer also said it was a chance to outline “ambitious new standards” for the sector

The government’s funding settlement for the NHS should focus on raising mental health workforce levels, addressing health inequalities and boosting prevention strategies, HSJ has been told.

In an interview with HSJ Mental Health Taskforce chair Paul Farmer said the promised 10-year settlement had to have mental health as a priority.

long-term plan was unveiled by prime minister Theresa May on Sunday which set out plans to give the NHS an average 3.4 per cent, or £21.5bn funding boost over five years.

Speaking exclusively to HSJ Mr Farmer, who is chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said the settlement’s offer for mental health must have four strands:

  • A “full-on” commitment to prevention programmes across the NHS, schools, workplaces and communities;
  • A “significant investment” in improving treatment for mental health patients including a long-term commitment to increase the workforce;
  • A focus on recovery and helping people into secure accommodation and back into work with an emphasis on social care; and
  • A long-term plan to address health inequalities by investing in communities with a high prevalence of mental health problems.

Mr Farmer said the Mental Health Forward View had set out the minimum needed to prevent a “catastrophic collapse” of services, but the new settlement was a chance to build on this platform.

He added: ”There’s no doubt there’s an increased level of public interest and public awareness and understanding about the issues, so here is a major opportunity to reset the agenda when it comes to mental health.”

HSJ understands that children and young people’s mental health is likely to be a priority in the new settlement, but it is not clear which other services will feature.

Mr Farmer’s comments follow health secretary Jeremy Hunt saying this week the settlement will include waiting time standards for mental health that are “as strong and powerful as waiting time standards for physical health”.

Mr Farmer said: “You need a clear set of ambitions around the kind of standards we have started to see in some areas like Early Intervention in Psychosis and IAPT. That needs to be rolled out across the system.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies and Health Foundation published a review last month which estimated that to extend treatment to 70 per cent of people with mental health problems funding will have to rise to £32bn by 2033-34, from nine per cent of the health budget to 12 per cent.

Mr Farmer said the report, commissioned by the NHS Confederation, was a good starting point and added that leaders should aim for the four per cent increase set out in the report. 

He said: ”It was a really helpful way of thinking about the scale of aspiration. There’s a significant investment needed to get up to 60 to 70 per cent access.”

But he stressed the settlement must not just pour more money into treating mental health conditions, but also looking at what savings can be made and reinvested in the sector.

Mr Farmer added: ”With the significant long-term level of investment what can we achieve and what can we do to reinvest money in the same way we did with secure care?

“If the system can make a big dent on out-of-area placements that frees up considerable resources that can be spent in other places. That’s part and parcel of what has to happen over the next few years.”