Ministers accused of failing to keep mental health pledge

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Media captionLabour says the average budget for mental health this year has fallen - the Department of Health disputes its figures

A row over spending on mental health in England has broken out after Labour accused the government of failing to honour promises to boost funding.

Freedom of information requests made by Labour to NHS commissioning bodies in England suggest on average mental health budgets fell in 2015-16.

However, the Department of Health said it rejected the figures and called mental health a government "priority".

Charities said services were struggling to cope in many areas of the country.

The state of mental health care in England became an important pre-election issue, with the coalition pledging to boost resources, says BBC health editor Hugh Pym.

'Financial pressure'

Guidance from NHS England published in December 2014 said funding in 2015-16 should increase "by at least as much" as the increase in overall allocation.

It is part of a wider goal laid out in the NHS five-year plan to put mental health on a par with physical health.

Dr Phil Moore, chairman of the NHS Clinical Commissioners Mental Health Commissioners Network stressed that CCGs understood the importance of investing in mental health, but financial pressures may leave no room for increased spend in any one area.

He said commissioners were also looking into different ways of funding mental health including using the voluntary sector and more community schemes.

"It is important to note that many CCGs are not simply looking to invest more in the same models of care that have failed in the past."

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The figures collected by Labour suggest that 50 of the 130 CCGs who responded plan to reduce the proportion of the budget they allocate to mental health for this financial year.

On average the figures suggest that in 2015/16 CCGs are planning to allocate 10% of their budgets to mental health, compared with 11% in 2014/15

But NHS England said CCGs would spend 13% of their budgets on mental health this year.

Labour also said there was wide variation between what CCGs had set aside for mental health.

Shadow public health minister Luciana Berger said ministers had repeatedly promised that the amount spent on mental health locally would increase in line with local CCG budgets.

"Yet they have failed to make this a reality and too many CCGs actually plan to spend less of their budget on mental health this year."

'Government priority'

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "We do not recognise these figures - NHS England has shown mental health spending has increased by £0.4bn this year.

"Mental health is a priority for this government and to say otherwise ignores the fact we have given mental and physical health conditions equal priority in law, we've increased central funding by millions of pounds, and introduced the first ever treatment targets which will make sure funding goes to where it's needed."

NHS England said: "The planning guidance set out a clear expectation for CCGs in terms of increasing spend on mental health.

"CCGs were required to ensure that mental health spend will rise in real terms and grow at least in line with each CCG's overall allocation growth, and around 90% of CCGs demonstrated this."

Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, said the lack of transparency over mental health budgets was "disappointing".

"On the frontline, whilst some mental health services have seen modest investment, most report they are at a standstill and others have seen a reduction in spending."

Sophie Corlett, director of external relations at the mental health charity Mind, said mental health services had always been underfunded and demand was rising.

"As a result, services in many parts of the country are struggling to cope and people are not getting the help they need. This cannot continue."

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