OXFORDSHIRE County Council has made a dramatic U-turn on plans to slash mental health funding.

The council had been proposing to reduce its contribution to NHS mental health services and social work by £1.6 million, from £8m to £6.4, by 2022.

Today, however, council bosses appear to have bowed to public pressure, scrapping £1m of the cuts and delaying the remaining £600,000 cut by a year.

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The change comes after feedback from residents during a public consultation in December, which the council’s cabinet member for adult social care and public health Lawrie Stratford said the authority had listened to.

He said: “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.

“We will work with Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group on a full and transparent review of resource allocation with a view to ensuring that voluntary groups are fairly treated.”

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Mr Stratford added that the newly-configured proposals would protect spend on mental health services, particularly those delivered by the voluntary sector, while giving Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and the county council longer to plan for and make savings on social work staffing for mental health.

The original proposals would have seen the local authority reduce its contribution to Oxford Health, which provides NHS mental health services in the county, by £1m by 2022.

A further £600,000 would have been taken from the council’s contribution to social work, as the local authority itself struggles to cope with a severe reduction in funding from the Government.

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However, now the £1m cut will be removed from the council’s budget proposals completely, while the £600,000 saving against mental health social workers will be delayed by a year.

The council said it would not have to find savings elsewhere after the authority was able to free up more money from its reserves than originally anticipated, while additional grant money had been identified.

The news has been welcomed by member organisations of the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership, who had widely condemned cuts.

The mental health sector is finding itself under more pressure each year, as referrals rise and budgets fall.

The latest figures from Oxford Health show that referrals to Oxfordshire adult mental health assessment teams have increased by 36.6 per cent since 2014.

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In an open letter to county councillors last week, Oxford Health, Oxfordshire Mind, Restore, Elmore Community Services, Connection Support and Response jointly claimed the cuts would be the breaking point for many of those struggling with mental ill health in the county.

Oxfordshire Mind CEO and chairman of the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership Dan Knowles said the decision to scrap the proposals was ‘warmly welcomed’.

He said: “Together we have managed to preserve current funding levels for Oxfordshire residents, but of course current funding levels are too low.

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“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.”

CEO of mental health charity Restore, Lesley Dewhurst added: “Speaking up makes a huge difference and this victory belongs to our service users, their carers, family, and the public.”

The revised budget proposals will now go in front of members of the cabinet for approval on January 22, before a final decision is made by full council on February 12.