Ulster Unionist mental health spokesperson, Robbie Butler MLA, has warned that the major Budget announcement of additional mental health services across England will only further widen the gap of support available to those locally in Northern Ireland.
Robbie Butler said:
“I was really pleased to see the focus and attention given to the issue of mental health across England in this week's Budget. Up to £250 million a year invested into new crisis services and a new 24-hour telephone helpline, more children and young people’s crisis teams, placing mental health support in every major emergency department and introducing new specialist mental health support ambulances will all make a huge difference.
“Whilst the clear declaration from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that funding for mental health services will grow as a share of the overall health budget by 2023/24 to create parity of esteem with physical health services was incredibly welcome, it also served to further highlight how inadequately services here are funded and prioritised.
“Northern Ireland has by far the highest rates of poor mental health and well-being in the UK and yet as a region it spends the smallest amount of time and money tackling it. It’s a decades old problem and it’s heart-breaking that as a result too many people locally still aren’t receiving the help and support they need, when they need it.
“Whilst we are set to receive an £320m of additional funding as a result of this most recent budget, it’s simply a result of Barnett consequentials rather than any new policies or priorities being devised or supported.
“The reality is that what amount of additional funding is eventually allocated to mental health services in Northern Ireland remains uncertain without a functioning Executive.
“In fact, in all likelihood I suspect most of this additional funding will simply be used to try to plug some of the ever-widening holes in the local budgets.
“We mustn’t lose sight however of just how positive and beneficial investing in mental health services can be. That’s why I think at the very least Northern Ireland should start by placing similar mental health crisis teams across each of the local Health and Social Care Trusts here. It’s still some distance compared to all that England is doing, but at least it would be a start.”