A chronic lack of funding for mental health services in the United Kingdom is forcing many more people to turn to the private sector for psychiatric help, it has been warned.
Earlier this year Prime Minister, David Cameron, called for “the nation to focus on mental health”. A positive call from a man who has watched over the system become so overworked, and underfunded that it has forced many desperate parents to turn private before their lives are lost as they can’t receive the treatment they desperately require on the NHS.
NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, stated that the service required £16bn as an absolute minimum to continue functioning at its current level. This relatively modest figure (in governmental spending terms) includes the ‘efficiency savings’ that Cameron’s austerity promoting, deficit busting government have brought in.
Instead it was allocated 8bn. 8bn to fund everything from staff pension increases, to additional IT test beds. The funding that mental health services so desperately require must also come from that amount - half of the minimum that was required to keep the already stretched service operating at its current level.
This underfunding is costing lives, one psychiatrist spoke about how not a single bed was available nationwide for a suicidal teenage who she was trying to care for. In equally as extreme cases patients have been forced to spend time in Police cells whilst psychiatric accommodation is sought.
The most high profile of these cases was of a 16 year old female patient, who spent 48 hours in a Police cell in Cornwall in the South West of England whilst she waited to be transferred to a psychiatric unit. Her story was just one of 263 cases in 2014 alone where a child was held in a Police cell whilst waiting for a psychiatric assessment to be carried out. A horrifyingly large number of innocent people being made to feel like criminals.
Only one group have benefitted from Cameron and Jeremy Hunt’s governance of the NHS - Private healthcare providers. Around 87% of independent mental health provider’s revenue comes as a direct result of the underfunded NHS, and its inability to provide appropriate facilities for the number of people currently requiring psychiatric help in the country.
As NHS mental health budgets have fallen by around 2% each year over the past 3 years (according to a BBC Freedom of Information request), private providers have seen their revenue grow by around 4% for each of the last 3 years. As crass as it is to say, they really have never had it (financially) so good.
Whilst the Conservatives will claim otherwise this may prove to be the first sign that the NHS as we know it is changing beyond recognition. The fully state funded health service - free at the point of need - may well become a thing of the past in the not too distant future.