Extra funding for suicide prevention is “too little too late” and will not prevent people dying unnecessarily, an influential parliamentary committee has warned.
In a damning report the health select committee said the government’s suicide prevention strategy cannot be delivered under the current budget and called for the shortfall in mental health professionals to be closed.
“We note that there are currently important steps which could be taken to reduce suicide but which cannot be acted upon due to the lack of significant additional resource,” the committee’s MPs stated.
“We call on the government to set out how it will make sure that funding is available for the actions outlined in the strategy.”
A department of health spokesperson said in 2016 a three year £25m fund was allocated to boost suicide prevention services, a move which the committee described as “too little too late”.
The government has also promised to increase funding to mental health services by £1bn by 2020.
Unite said the report demonstrated that the government’s pledges were “hollow words”, adding that swinging NHS budget cuts were compounding the pressure on mental health services, a situation which would not be rectified by the additional suicide prevention funding.
Bearing brunt of cuts
One Unite mental health nurse also reported an increase in the number of mental health patients who had become suicidal after bearing the brunt of benefit and social care cuts. Her comments echoed those made by leading medical organisations earlier this year.
The health select committee also said that there was not enough oversight on whether plans laid out to reduce suicide by local authorities were effective.
Responding to the report, professional lead for mental health at the Royal College of Nursing, Ian Hulatt, said, “The report exposes the gap between government rhetoric and action.
“The funding is not getting through and little is known about the quality of local plans or their ability to reach the people who need support.”
In 2015, 4,820 people were recorded as having died by suicide in England, however the committee said the figure is probably “much higher”.
Unite’s lead professional officer for mental health, Dave Munday, said that the 15 percent fall in the number of mental health nurses between 2010 and 2016 – from 45,384 to 38,774 – was impeding suicide prevention services.
He said, “This report states quite clearly that suicide is preventable. It also highlights very strongly the government’s hollow words when it comes to funding services. Allocating extra money to one area, such as suicide prevention, does not mitigate the fact that overall services are being starved and creating pressure across the system.
“If the government really wants to improve suicide prevention it needs to urgently reverse the cuts to mental health nurses and ensure that the often promised funding improvements in mental health services materialise.”
A Unite mental health nurse, who did not wished to named, said it wasn’t just cuts to the NHS that were impacting on overstretched mental health professionals or the people they treat.
“For some their situations have contributed towards them leaning towards suicide, when that may not have been the case if those pressures weren’t as acute.”