Ministers have been accused of breaking their promises on mental health investment after £800m earmarked to improve services was diverted to prop up acute hospitals’ finances.
The move has emerged in a letter written by NHS England’s finance chief, Paul Baumann, which has been seen by the Health Service Journal. In it he makes clear that the £800m, which NHS England held back from its 209 clinical commissioning groups this year, will help stabilise NHS finances.
The BMA accused the government of using “stopgaps and accounting tricks” instead of properly funding good services for patients in desperate need.
A leading mental health charity said it would compromise the government’s commitment to improve care for people with serious mental health problems.
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, last year said the money was “funding that would have been available from CCGs for mental health services, community health services, primary care and other things”.
It was being held as a “contingency reserve” in case hospital trusts recorded huge deficits this year comparable to the overspend of £2.45bn they made in 2015-16, he said.
In his letter, Baumann confirms that NHS England now intends to use the “full amount” of the contingency fund to offset overspends by NHS acute hospital trusts in 2016-17.
Mind chief executive Paul Farmer, who chaired the NHS taskforce on mental health that last year recommended sweeping changes, including to funding, commented: “It would be incredibly worrying if mental health investment was being sacrificed so that [NHS bodies] can balance their books.”
Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: “Taking funding from mental health, community and primary care to prop up deliberately created deficits will do nothing about the fact that most NHS trusts are in the red, our GPs are struggling to meet rising demand with inadequate resources, our hospitals don’t have enough beds and patients are waiting longer for essential care.
“Patients deserve more than sticking-plaster measures. We call on the government to bring spending on the NHS in line with other leading European economies and to produce a long-term strategy for the NHS that addresses the fundamental workload and funding challenges that are overwhelming our health service.”