Birmingham mental health services face cuts as demand soars

Record numbers are seeking treatment from Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. Meanwhile the Trust has been forced to make annual savings of over 6%.

The number of patients using the Trust’s services has grown by over 20% from 2011-15, according to figures obtained from a freedom of information request. During the same period however, the number of full-time clinical members of staff has only increased by 4.7%.

In 2015 the Trust provided services to nearly 50,000 patients across more than 50 sites, making it one of the largest mental health foundation trusts in the country.

Nearly 50,000 patients were treated at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust in 2015
Number of patients Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health TrustAnnual number of patients seeking treatment at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust (Source: FOI)

In its 2015/16 Annual Report the Trust admits: “This has been a challenging year financially for the Trust as well as the wider NHS. We were required to make significant savings of 6.7 per cent across our organisation but at the same time safeguard the safety and quality of our services and patient experience.”

These financial challenges are set to continue as the Trust will be required to deliver savings of 6.8% for 2016/17.

Faced with unprecedented demand for its services and increased financial strain, the Trust has seen occupancy levels in adult acute wards average over 95% in 2015.

Nevertheless, the Trust has still managed to exceed the new government standards for mental health waiting times, which were announced in October 2014. Targets require 75% of those referred for talking therapies for common mental health problems like depression and anxiety to start treatment within six weeks and 95% within 18 weeks. This year the trust achieved 95% within six weeks of referral and 99.2% within 18 weeks.

The pressures faced by Birmingham’s mental health services reflect a wider problem across the country, where there is a growing demand for mental health treatment, whilst over-stretched services struggle to cope.

Mental health has long been branded the “Cinderella service” of the NHS. Despite making up a quarter of the burden of illness, it still only attracts around 13% of NHS funding.

However, in 2014 the coalition government launched a new five-year blueprint for transforming mental health services, including the introduction of maximum waiting time standards and extra funding for services for young people. Theresa May has indicated that mental health will remain on the government’s agenda, admitting in her first speech as Prime Minister in July, “If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.”