HEALTH chiefs have admitted they have been underfunding mental health in Oxfordshire for years and have finally pledged to set it right with a long-term cash boost.

A lack of funding coupled with a rise in demand has led to patients now 'being let down' by the system according to those on the front line.

The move will ultimately mean more staff can be recruited to increase capacity and reduce waiting times in a system which has seen local demand rise by 86 per cent for young people and 30 per cent for adults.

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Historically mental health services in Oxfordshire receive a smaller proportion of local funding in comparison to other areas, while the county as a whole receives the lowest amount of health funding per population in England.

However, the review found that while Oxfordshire spends 20 per cent less than the national average on other health services, it was actually spending 30 per cent less than the average on mental health.

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which holds the purse strings for the county’s NHS, has now agreed to provide a bigger proportion of its funding to bring it inline with other health services.

The funding increase is vital according to Oxfordshire psychiatrist Dr Andrew Molodynski who said years of chronic underinvestment had led to a situation where patients, often with severe conditions, are being let down.

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Speaking in his role as mental health policy lead at the British Medical Association (BMA) Dr Molodynski said: “Patients are being failed by reduced services and longer waits for treatments, particularly talking therapies.

“As well as the inevitable burden placed upon the patient’s mental health and wellbeing, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are struggling to manage the pressures of a depleted mental healthcare workforce amid growing patient demand.

“This review must move beyond ambition into action with clarity on how much funding will be allocated and how this will effectively be delivered in the front-line care of mental health services in Oxfordshire so that vulnerable patients can actually get the support they need.

“The situation at present is not tenable for much longer so urgent commitments and the flow of resources is essential.”

It is not yet known exactly how much the spending increase will be but this year OCCG expects to spend £63.4m (8 per cent of its budget) on mental health.

The review into mental health spending was commissioned by Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG), which holds the purse strings for the county’s NHS services and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust which provides mental health services in the county with the rise in demand threatening to cripple some services.

This week it has been revealed that upper waiting times limits for adult routine referrals have been increased from four to eight weeks, while a large number of young people are waiting months for their first appointment.

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Chief executive of Oxford Health, Stuart Bell, identified the lack of staff as an area in urgent need of investment.

He said: “We’ve got to cut our coat according to our cloth - I think the biggest constraint is workforce.

“We are committed to being as efficient a provider of mental health services as we can be because that makes tax payers money go further, but we’ve got to get a reasonable balance between what we expect staff to do.

“There comes a point where if you just expect to see more and more people with the same number of staff that it’s not going to work.”

Chief executive at OCCG, Lou Patten, added: “This is quite a big change in spend and we will have to look at it very carefully and look at it over time.

“For the immediate future we will look at putting some of our growth funding into support mental health and then over time look at the service model right the way through from voluntary, charity, community mental health, acute mental health, and back into primary care - the whole plethora that a patient has around mental health care.”

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The news has been welcomed by mental health charity groups, which had recently battled against a proposed £1m cut to Oxfordshire County Council's mental health contribution.

Chief Executive of Restore, Lesley Dewhurst. said: "As a charity which has been negatively affected by the significant underfunding of mental health across Oxfordshire, we are thrilled by the news of an increase in mental health funding by the Clinical Commissioning Group.

"Having worked hard to prevent a cut of £1m by the county council, we know just how much mental health services matter to so many people and are at risk.

"Along with Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and other partners within the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership, we are seeing more people coming through our doors and we all just want to offer the best support we possibly can."