UNION leaders in Oxfordshire have called for immediate action to address the county’s mental health funding gap and for local providers to speak out more strongly about the problems they are facing.

In an open letter eight representatives, including Dr Andrew Molodynski a consultant psychiatrist in Didcot and the British Medical Association’s consultant mental health lead, said patients had died while on waiting lists for therapy.

The letter said: “There should be no need for us to write this letter in 21st century Britain. Unfortunately, we are in the position where we feel we have no choice as leaders within all the large health unions.”

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It criticised mental health being the ‘poor relation’ of the NHS in terms of funding and that the situation was even worse than the national average in Oxfordshire.

The letter, also signed by local representatives of Unison, Unite, The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Royal College of Nursing, added: “People in Oxfordshire have died on waiting lists for therapy. We live in one of the richest parts of one of the richest countries on earth, but we collectively tolerate this situation.”

The letter said it was ‘time to call this out’ and, referencing Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, wrote: “The people who fund services agree this funding gap is true but have not really changed anything.

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Warneford Hospital, Headington, run by Oxford Health

"The people who manage and provide services have been trying hard for improvements but will not ‘go public’ on the matter, despite us begging them to.”

Diane Hedges, chief operating officer at Oxfordshire CCG, said it recognised ‘benchmarking of investment’ showed it invested less per head of population in mental health services than similar CCGs and less than the national average, but added: “We are taking positive steps to tackle the issue of resources by developing a mental health investment plan with our service provider, Oxford Health, the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership and others. A phased proposal to begin to close the gap is under development.”

Ms Hedges said it had invested funds 'in line with mental health standards' and supported voluntary sector providers a range of initiatives, as well as investing in mental health crisis support, mental health practitioners within GP surgeries and in GP health checks for people with mental health issues.

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She added if Oxfordshire was to spend a greater share of its resources on mental health ‘we must decide how to do this as a health and care system’ and as commissioners, the CCG must work with its NHS provider trusts, GPs and partners to ‘examine our priorities’ in relation to need for the future.

Commenting last week on a BMA survey, which highlighted how ‘stressed’ mental health staff were nationally, in a statement Oxford Health said: “The funding gap for mental health services is long standing and widely recognised. Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust is working closely with commissioners as well as the wider health and social care system and our third sector partners to improve resourcing and services to meet goals for mental healthcare set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.”

Oxford Health and Oxfordshire CCG last year jointly commissioned an independent review of mental health funding.