Oxfordshire mental health funding cuts ‘would have devastating consequences’

Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall in Oxford NNL-180920-115911001
Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall in Oxford NNL-180920-115911001

Proposed £1.6m cuts to mental health services would be devastating and a mistake, a health bosses have warned councillors in an open letter.

Oxfordshire County Council is currently holding a public consultation on its 2019/20 budget, which includes plans to slice mental health funding for the NHS from £8m to £6.4m by 2022.

All members of the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership have signed an open letter to urging councillors to reconsider as doing so would be the ‘breaking point for many struggling with mental ill health’.

While the Oxfordshire branch of the Socialist Health Association (SHA), an MP, councillors and medical professionals have added their criticism to the proposals.

The local authority says no decisions have been made yet but the money would be reinvested in adult social services and additional funding is given to mental health outside the Oxford Health contract.

The letter, published yesterday (Wednesday, January 2), reads: “It is false to believe that we can tighten our belts further.

“We have made every cut we can possibly make in every area of our operations. Our staff soldier on with dedication, but struggle daily with diminishing resources.

“You cannot make an efficient service more efficient by imposing further cuts.

“Cuts of a further £1.6m can only produce devastating consequences which we believe are avoidable.”

The letter says those involved in the partnership were ‘surprised and very concerned’ by the county council’s plans, which were revealed last month.

Further cutting mental health provision would be a ‘false economy’, the letter says, as any reduction in support will lead to increased pressure on other services.

It is also suggested that these cuts could put further pressure on efforts to safeguard vulnerable children and adults in the county.

The chief executives of Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and charities Oxfordshire Mind, Restore, Elmore Community Services, Connection Support and Response, are the main signatories of the letter.

While representatives from other organisations have also signed, including Banbury Young Homeless Project (BYHP), Oxfordshire Youth and Trax.

“The county council says that they need to make hard choices and focus their budget on those for whom they have statutory responsibilities,” the letter says

“However, they wouldn’t be making a hard choice, they would be making a mistake.”

Local NHS consultant and Labour councillor Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, co-chairman of Oxfordshire SHA, said the proposal could have a ‘devastating impact’ on the lives of the county’s most vulnerable residents.

Oxford East MP Annaliese Dodds added: “This additional cut to support for people with mental health problems will have a severe impact on many people who are already struggling.”

The county council would save £1.6m over three years in two separate savings for mental health services.

One million pounds would be taken in two £500,000 instalments in 2020/21 and 2021/22.

Before £600,000 is cut over two years – split equally in 2019/20 and 2020/21 budgets – from a £1.8m pot which contributes to social work run by Oxford Health.

A county council spokesman said: “Oxfordshire County Council is committed to working with providers of these services and people who use the services in order to work out how and if necessary savings can be delivered effectively and with the least impact on people who use services.

“As in much of the county local government in Oxfordshire is facing unprecedented budget challenges, impacted further by growing demand for our key service areas.”

Labour county councillors voiced their concerns about the plans at a meeting last month, with deputy opposition leader Laura Price saying they would be a ‘really significant tipping point’ for charities.

The council spokesman added that ‘very difficult decisions’ have had to be made but all proposals will be reviewed once the consultation ends.

The county council’s budget will be set in February. To take part in the consultation, which ends on Sunday, click here.