Perhaps most reassuring was the emphasis the Chancellor placed on mental health. Following on from the comments made by the Prime Minister earlier in the year, Philip Hammond outlined a number of announcements in a bid to improve people’s access to mental health support services over the coming years.
However, while it was encouraging to hear the Chancellor reveal plans to bolster support for mental health services across the country, it fell short of promising the amount of funding needed to deliver vital improvements of services and finally put mental health on equal footing with physical health.
In fact, the Budget failed to disclose any new details about proposed reforms to mental health services and instead reiterated what had already been publicised over the days leading up to the Chancellor’s speech.
What did we learn from the Budget?
Positively, the Government is clearly now recognising mental health as a priority, with the Chancellor pledging to increase funding for mental health in England by £2 billion in real terms. Long neglected and under-funded, this boost comes as a welcome step in the right direction towards addressing the pressing mental health crisis.
It’s also promising to see the announcement of a new mental health crisis service, with mental health support to be made available in every major A&E, as well as more mental health ambulances, an increase in the number of safe havens in the community and the introduction of a new 24-hour mental health crisis.
What does this mean for mental health?
Ultimately, however, despite efforts to address the pressing – and growing – mental health issue, a cash injection does not offer a meaningful and long-term solution. In fact, after years of neglect, this boost reflects a game of catch-up rather than a genuinely progressive investment.
Most significantly, the pledged funding does not address the current imbalance between physical health and mental health, undermining the Government’s promises to place mental health and physical health on equal footing. The overall funding committed to NHS over the next five years is £20.5 billion – a fraction of which is reserved for mental health.
In fact, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank suggests that the £2 billion extra promised in the budget is only half of the sum that’s actually needed to put spending more on par with that of physical health.
The increasing prevalence of poor mental health cannot be reversed without greater funding. Just recently, depression overtook obesity on the GP list of common illnesses – taking second place only to high blood pressure. Meanwhile, research shows that one in four adults will experience a mental illness at some point each year in the UK.
With the rising burden of mental health and the growing pressure on NHS services, it’s clear that much more needs to be done if we are to tackle the mental health crisis. Moreover, while the increase in funding for NHS England will begin rolling out in 2019-20, it will only reach the full amount promised by 2023-24. Unfortunately, people suffering with mental health conditions cannot afford to wait years to access care – we need urgent solutions now.
What more can be done?
The promise of HealthTech
It’s no surprise that the growing prevalence of mental health is taking a toll on both individuals and overall national economic productivity. The Government is making important steps in the right direction, but to properly address mental health, a holistic approach is required which combines increased funding to the NHS with the promotion of HealthTech solutions.
Technology-based solutions like live video counseling, for example, can provide clients with on-demand, flexible appointments that can be utilised outside of traditional working hours and even on weekends. What’s more, with confidentiality for many being a strong impediment to seeking therapy, these innovations can offer discreet professional support without needing to carve out time to physically attend an appointment.
The need to spread awareness
Additionally, more time and resources need to be devoted to eliminating the lingering stigma surrounding mental health. The recognition of mental health as a serious problem in the Budget is an improvement – but the reality is that the topic is still considered a ‘taboo’ in many sectors of society.
Directing efforts towards giving people the knowledge, tools and resources to manage their mental health will open up discussion about common issues like anxiety and depression, alleviate the pressure to suffer in silence, and encourage people to seek professional help. It’s positive to see charities like Mind taking this initiative – most recently by launching an online portal for useful resources in partnership with Prince Harry – but there is certainly more work to be done to increase awareness.
This year’s Autumn Budget inspired hope for the future of mental health in the UK, particularly with the acknowledgement that this pressing issue is a key Government priority. And while the introduction of new funding and initiatives to improve access to support services is reassuring, much more needs to be done to tackle the mental health crisis.
Meanwhile, HealthTech solutions are on hand to offer relief for the over-burdened NHS – and for individuals who struggle to access the support they need. Hopefully, with a combination of Government direction and private sector innovation, we will finally be able to achieve parity between mental health and physical health.
Dr Zain Sikafi is CEO and co-founder of Mynurva – a platform that provides live video therapy and counselling sessions. He is also a practicing GP.