U-turn over Oxfordshire County Council’s mental health cuts after criticism

Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall in Oxford NNL-180920-115839001
Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall in Oxford NNL-180920-115839001

Proposed £1.6m cuts to mental health services in Oxfordshire have been changed after being described as having ‘devastating consequences’.

Oxfordshire County Council now plans to slice £600,000 from its contribution to mental health funding for the NHS, which will be delayed by a year.

Mental health bosses, the Socialist Health Association, an MP, and councillors all urged the council to reconsider, saying doing so would be the ‘breaking point for many’.

Cabinet member Cllr Lawrie Stratford said: “We are grateful for the reasoned feedback we have received from Oxfordshire people and organisations and we have listened.

“The feedback given was often set within the wider national debate on mental health services.

“Our newly configured proposals will protect spend on mental health services, particularly those delivered by the voluntary sector, whilst providing both Oxford Health and the county council longer to plan for and deliver savings against spending on social work staffing for mental health.

“Although our contribution is only a comparatively small part of the overall mental health spending in Oxfordshire, the feedback we received left us in no doubt that it is a valued part of our work to care for those in the greatest need in Oxfordshire.”

The council had planned to slice mental health funding for the NHS from £8m to £6.4m by 2022 as part of its budget for 2019/20.

But the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership, which includes chief executives from Oxford Health NHS Trust, Oxfordshire Mind, Restore, and other mental health charities, said it was ‘surprised and very concerned’ by the council’s plans.

In an open letter, they said further cutting mental health provision would be a ‘false economy’ and suggested it could put more pressure on efforts to safeguard vulnerable children and adults in Oxfordshire.

The new proposal, to be considered by the council’s cabinet on January 22, is to remove the originally-proposed £1m reduction in the council’s contribution to NHS mental health budget and to delay a £600,000 saving against mental health social workers by a year.

Changes to the £600,000 staffing reduction mean there will be no reduction in 2019/2020, with the first reduction of £300,000 in 2020/2021.

The planned investment of £624,000 in special educations needs and safeguarding social workers will however still go ahead in 2019/20.

The mental health partnership has welcomed the decision by councillors and thanked all those who helped persuade the ‘change of heart’.

Chairman Dan Knowles said: “Oxfordshire has one of the lowest levels of mental health funding nationally and this funding injustice needs to be addressed to ensure long term stability of the mental health sector in Oxfordshire.

“We have today won a significant victory but have a long way to go if we are to provide the service this county deserves.”

The county council’s budget will be set in February.

Oxfordshire mental health funding cuts ‘would have devastating consequences’