Let’s Talk About Spending on Mental Health

18th September 2017

Blog by Carolyn Lochhead, Public Affairs Manager.

I like words. That’s why I work in communications: I love the thrill of finding exactly the right term to convey my meaning, and the ability of the written word to communicate across time and space.

But sometimes, words aren’t enough, and you have to look at the numbers. That’s what SAMH has been doing in the last few weeks as we developed evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee on the Scottish Government’s budget. I’ll be speaking directly to the Committee about our evidence on Tuesday 19th September, so here are some of the points I’ll be making. 

There were lots of positive words about mental health in the Government’s draft budget and in its new Mental Health Strategy. There was a commitment that mental health expenditure in the NHS will rise above £1 billion for the first time in 2017-18. There was a promise that future investment in mental health will grow at a rate above overall growth in the frontline NHS budget. And there’s a new £35m pot to employ an additional 800 mental health workers in A&Es, GP surgeries, every custody suite in every police station and prisons. This all follows the Government’s acceptance of our call for an Ask Once Get Help Fast approach to mental health, so people can get the help they need, when they need it. 

However, Ask Once Get Help Fast needs money as well as words, and this is what I’ll be telling the Committee. We are worried that the overall budget share for mental health has reduced, from 8.6% in 2015-16 to 8% in 2017-18. We’re concerned it’s not keeping pace with investment elsewhere in the UK. In England, mental health’s share of expenditure is 11%. And NHS England plans to spend an extra £1 billion on mental health annually. An equivalent investment in Scotland would stand at £100m annually. Instead, the Mental Health Strategy sets out an additional £30m per year. 

SAMH believes there are areas of mental health that urgently require additional funding. As we’ve been highlighting in our Going To Be campaign, our children and young people need more help. By the time they’re 16, roughly 3 children in every class will have experienced mental health problems. But spending on children and young people’s mental health is less than 0.5% of total NHS expenditure. And in Scotland – unlike elsewhere in the UK – there is no guaranteed access to counselling in schools. We estimate that a school counselling programme would cost no more than £9m: or 0.0007% of the total NHS budget. 

What’s more, despite a 2005 promise to train teachers, and in contrast to England, there is no comprehensive Scottish programme of mental health training for staff in schools. Based on costs for existing mental health training, SAMH estimates that training all school staff in mental health would require an initial investment of £4.4m. 

You can read our full response to the Committee here. I’ll always love words. But increasingly, I and my colleagues at SAMH will be keeping a very close eye on the numbers. 

We recently spoke to The Herald about our evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee on the Scottish Government’s budget. You can read the coverage here