The government has axed an annual study of spending in mental health services a year after HSJ revealed it had shown the first fall in spending for a decade.
Financial mapping reports of investment in the mental health sector have been commissioned by the Department of Health for the past 11 years.
The DH has said the report duplicated work and that NHS England would instead publish “programme budgeting data” on mental health spending in 2014.
But NHS England has told HSJ its proposal would “not provide the full range of information that the survey of investment in mental health did”.
Last year HSJ revealed the study, by the Mental Health Strategies consultancy, showed overall spending on adult mental health services had fallen in real terms for the first time in a decade.
After inflation, expenditure on mental health services in 2011-12 fell by 1 per cent, falling by £65m to £6.63bn.
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 study constituted the only comprehensive single source means of guaging national and regional expenditure in areas including psychological therapies and crisis resolution.
The government has made a commitment to creating a “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health but critics say the axing of the survey will mean it is now impossible to check progress towards this goal.
Rebecca Cotton, director of mental health policy with the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network said: “It’s a fairly odd situation to be in when we can’t answer the simple question ‘how much are we spending on mental health services?’
“It’s important we have that sort of information available, even if there might be a better way of doing it in the future.”
Andy Bell, deputy chief executive at the Centre for Mental Health, described the decision by the DH as “worrying”. “We don’t have a reliable way of knowing how much was invested in mental health care last year, as we have had for the past 11 years,” he added.
“We don’t even know if we are going in the right direction on parity of esteem and that is troubling.”
A DH spokeswoman said: “Data on spending in mental health was duplicated. To reduce the bureaucratic burden on the NHS, in future, this will be captured through programme budgeting data.”
NHS England said programme budgeting data submitted by invidual commissioners would give an overall expenditure level for mental health services in 2012-13 but no date for its release has been set.
A spokesman for the national commissioning body added: “The programme budgeting data has been produced in this form for the last couple of years.
“It does not provide the full range of information that the survey of investment in mental health did, but it does provide information on mental health expenditure by commissioner broken down by a number of subcategories as well as the 12 care settings.”
He added that NHS England was looking to breakdown the data to see how money was spent on specific areas such as dementia and improving access to psychological therapies.