Campaigners attack ‘shameful’ mental health spend in Suffolk

Mental health. Pictured: A couple comfort each other. Picture: Newscast Online

Mental health. Pictured: A couple comfort each other. Picture: Newscast Online - Credit: Newscast Online

Campaigners in Suffolk have labelled the county’s spend on preventing mental health problems as “shameful” and have issued an appeal for greater investment.

The call has come after new figures from the charity Mind revealed local authorities in England spent an average of just 1% of their public health budgets on mental health.

In Suffolk, however, the county council allocated just £35,000 to mental health promotion in 2014/15 – 0.13% of the total £26.3million public health budget.

Although the actual spend more than doubled to £73,911, after being “re-prioritised” over the course of the year, that accounted for 0.28% of the total public health budget. This year’s budget for mental health promotion stands at £53,000.

The council, which released the figures in response to a Freedom of Information request, has stressed it spends far more on mental health through its other services, including drug and alcohol treatment, sexual health and school nursing.

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The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, however, said the amount spent was “shameful”.

“This pitiful level of expenditure ignores the evidence of the economic, social and personal costs of mental illness and the effectiveness of prevention rather treatment,” a spokesman added.

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“Inadequate investment in mental health services and social care, combined with spending three times less than the national average on public mental health, makes it inevitable that the NHS in Suffolk cannot meet the growing demands placed upon it as budgets are cut.”

Tony Goldson, cabinet member for health at the county council, said the authority was committed to promoting mental wellbeing.

He said the Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board, which includes councils, police and health organisations, had formed a strategy to help direct the future of services in the county.

“Suffolk’s public health team places a strong emphasis on mental health, ensuring it is a key part of its contracted services, from drug and alcohol treatment to sexual health, healthy lifestyle services and school nursing,” he added.

“In recent months, public health has championed ‘being well in the wild’ – a scheme designed to encourage people to be active outdoors to improve their mental health, plus other initiatives designed to reduce loneliness and social isolation.

“The team has also supported workplace health among its staff and national campaigns such as ‘Time to Change’.”

The average amount spent on mental health promotion by the 11 local authorities in the Eastern region – including Essex – was 0.9% of their public health budgets, though a breakdown of the separate figures has not been made available.

Mind says the figures send a message that mental health is “not seen as important or a priority for investment”.

Chief executive Paul Farmer added: “It is not acceptable that such a small amount of the public health purse goes on preventing health problems.

“One in four people will experience a mental health problem every year, yet so much of this could be prevented by targeted programmes aimed at groups we know to be at risk, such as pregnant women, people who are isolated, or those living with a long term health problem.

“We need local authorities to use their budgets to help people in their communities stay mentally healthy and reduce the chances of them becoming unwell.”

See more on our Mental Health Watch campaign here or sign our pledge here

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