The Royal College of Psychiatrists has criticised the Scottish government’s decision to freeze the mental health budget
“While provisions were put in place during Covid-19, in stark contrast budgets have been frozen for mental health services in response to the current cost-of-living crisis.” Dr Pavan Srireddy, policy lead, Royal College of Psychiatrists Scotland
Psychiatrists say that the Scottish government’s decision to freeze mental health funding will result in a “mental health catastrophe”.
The draft budget statement set out last week by John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, announced that funding for health and social care and mental health is to be frozen at £120m. The budgets for recovery and renewal and community health and wellbeing will be frozen at £3.7m and £15m respectively.
Dr Pavan Srireddy, consultant psychiatrist and policy lead at the Royal College of Psychiatrists Scotland, said it was disappointing that the organisation’s call for a 10% uplift in mental health funding – promised by both the SNP and the Greens in their 2021 manifestos – was not guaranteed. He said: “What we have here is a mental health catastrophe in the making,” adding: “People are really struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, which is having an enormous toll on their mental health.”
He went on to criticise the Scottish government’s plans for a national care service at a time when the social care sector needed urgent support: “As stated by the deputy first minister, the income tax rise should be used for patient care spending. However, we would once again reiterate that patient care must take priority instead of major structural change as proposed by the national care service.
“We’re very worried about the proposals for the new national care service, which we think lacks detail.
“We also believe it is wrong to be spending money on structural change at a time when frontline services are struggling to meet demand.”
Dr Srireddy said it was “quite astonishing” that budgets for mental health care were being frozen: “While provisions were put in place during Covid-19, in stark contrast budgets have been frozen for mental health services in response to the current cost-of-living crisis.”
He added: “We wanted the Scottish government to guarantee that 10% of health spend is given to mental health and it receives its fair share of funding but, sadly, what we’ve seen in this budget is cut in real terms.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: “Direct investment in mental health support and services will be £290m in 2023-24. This represents an increase from the updated 2022-23 budget of £252m, following the emergency budget review.”
Mental health is, by the Scottish government’s own admission, one of the major public health challenges in the country. Scotland has the highest suicide rate of any UK country, and one in four people are estimated to experience mental ill health in any given year. It is disappointing, therefore, that the government has decided to freeze spending on mental health, particularly at a time, as the Royal College of Psychiatrists points out, when the cost-of-living crisis is likely to have a negative impact on mental wellbeing. We hope that the government takes note of the College’s advice and reconsiders its decision.