NHS bodies that put too little money into improving mental health care have been threatened with sanctions in a crackdown intended to ensure more cash reaches the frontline.
NHS England has written to all 207 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to warn that they must deliver on a key NHS-wide funding pledge in order to meet the rising demand for help.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, has ordered CCGs to ensure they boost spending on mental health by more than the size of their overall annual budget increase. CCGs are the local NHS bodies that hold the health budget for every area and pay hospital trusts to treat patients.
All CCGs must meet the mental health investment standard (MHIS) during the new NHS financial year, Murdoch said.
NHS bosses are using the policy to increase funding for psychological and psychiatric services after concern they have endured years of underinvestment.
“This is a landmark moment for England’s mental health services,” Murdoch said in the letter to CCGs.
“The requirement to increase mental health spending faster than overall growth in health spending is not only a crucial enabler of high-quality patient care, but a demonstration of the NHS’s commitment to putting mental and physical health on a level footing.
“Currently the overwhelming majority of CCGs – 85% – meet the MHIS, but nearly nine in 10 is not enough.”
Bosses of CCGs that do not comply face having to explain their failure to Murdoch or another senior NHS England official.
“Where our data analysis suggests that an individual CCG is not on track to meet the standard, their financial director and operations director will be called directly by a member of [NHS England’s] mental health unit or myself, to seek assurances on local and regional plans to put this right,” Murdoch said.
Emphasising her intention to personally check CCGs’ approach to meeting the MHIS, she added: “Further follow-up will be pursued through the national performance and delivery group as well as regional deep-dive meetings, which I will chair, reporting regularly to [NHS England chief executive] Simon Stevens.”
Murdoch’s move comes amid complaints from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, charities and opposition MPs that extra money earmarked by NHS England to expand mental health provision is not always spent as intended.
Theresa May, the prime minister, has made improving mental health support one of her key domestic policies, as part of her assault on the “burning injustices” in British society.
An annual survey using freedom of information laws conducted by the MP Luciana Berger, the president of the Labour campaign for mental health, found that half of CCGs reduced their spending on mental health provision during 2017-18.