Norfolk and Suffolk councils criticised for “shameful” lack of spending on mental health

Picture: Newscast Online

Picture: Newscast Online - Credit: Newscast Online

Campaigners for Norfolk and Suffolk have labelled the region'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 Norfolk, however, the county council allocated just £200,000 to public mental health interventions in 2014/15 - 0.65% of the total £30.59m budget.

The situation was even more severe in Suffolk, where the county council spent £35,000 on mental health promotion in the same period – 0.13% of the total £26.3m 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.

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Suffolk County 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.

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

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'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. '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 cannot meet the growing demands placed upon it as budgets are cut.'

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health, said: 'We agree that mental health is as important as physical health and recognise that poor mental health can be an underlying cause or consequence of many other health conditions.

'We seek to include mental health in all of the public health and prevention work we do and so the funding identified by Mind is just a fraction of our total spending on mental health services in the county.

'Much of what we do is embedded in the services that we commission and fund, such as health visiting, school nursing and support for substance misuse problems. 'We also have health trainers who work with adults on a range of health issues.'

The authority also funds services through its children's services and adult social care departments.

Tony Goldson, who is responsible for health at Suffolk County Ccouncil, 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.

The average amount spent on mental health promotion by the 11 local authorities in the Eastern region 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 mental health problems.

'One in four people will experience 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.'

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