Fact-checkers get involved in Ralf Little – Jeremy Hunt debate, and it goes badly for Hunt

Jeremy Hunt and Ralf Little [Composite: BBC].


No, Jeremy Hunt doesn’t:

The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt still said on TV: “What has actually happened on my watch is the biggest expansion of mental health provision in Europe” when challenged on everything from lack of nurses to lack of beds by Andrew Marr.

Mr Hunt can’t have known whether that was true or not. Neither the Department of Health nor NHS England publish records of how much has been spent on mental health in the past. We still don’t actually know how much is being spent in total on mental health in the NHS right now.

If you take the number of staff who specialise in mental health, the number of nurses is down by 5,000, and the number of fully-trained doctors in psychiatry and psychotherapy is down by 105.

If you include junior doctors who are still training for their specialism the number has gone up slightly since 2010, having fallen in between. So maybe we are starting to see more doctors entering this field.

If you take the number of staff working in a set of mental health trusts, as Mr Hunt did, it’s up by over 4,000. But some of those aren’t new people. Some are people who were already there when the trust they worked for got reclassified as a mental health trust. If you break the figure down, there are fewer nurses and slightly fewer doctors.  A big increase in ‘scientific, therapeutic and technical staff’ is what makes the overall figure go up.

Mr Hunt’s claims on spending talked about spending planned in future years as if it had already happened, overstated the value of the spending that has happened by ignoring inflation, and used partial figures. There are no complete figures published.

“We’ve put a billion pounds extra of resources into mental health”. Not yet: the government’s mental health plan says that mental health services will benefit from additional investment of £1bn per year by 2020/21. If he had said “We’ve committed to putting a billion pounds extra into mental health”, that would have been correct.

Mr Hunt also said “Over half a billion pounds more” was being spent now compared to last year. That ends up being closer to a third of a billion once you take inflation into account.

We don’t know what’s happened to the total amount spent on mental health by the NHS. The figures we do have which Mr Hunt quoted relate only to spending done by the groups who commission hospital and other care in local areas. They don’t include spending done directly by NHS England which pays for GPs themselves and some specialist mental health services.

The last point is a matter of judgement. If a government increases spending on something, but still isn’t spending enough not everyone would accept that the government is expanding that thing.

There is no complete data on what has happened to mental health spending in recent years so we can’t say what the picture of spending on mental looks like under this government or as Mr Hunt put it, on his watch.

But we do know that the backdrop of the new plan is concern about lack of spending on mental health during that time. Even the government’s own Mental Health Taskforce talked of “chronic underinvestment in mental health care across the NHS in recent years”.

The government wants to treat a million more people a year by 2021. It says it’s on its way with 1,400 more people a day using mental health services than in 2010/11. NHS Digital, the body responsible for collecting the figures, told us in January that the figures can’t be compared to find an exact trend in this way, and that although they think more people are using mental health services, they’re not sure and they don’t know how many.

Mr Hunt pointed to some specific areas where he says things are clearly getting better, on talking therapies and A&E provision for mental health.

The data we have suggests there are thousands more talking therapists than there used to be, although in keeping with the mess of mental health statistics we’ve got used to, there’s no one or comprehensive figure for people providing talking therapies.

A&E crisis services are also being strengthened with more hospitals offering higher standard services. There’s still a way to go to meet the government’s goals for 2020/21 but Mr Hunt’s claim of “significant improvements” is backed up by the data.

That said, on A&E Mr Hunt is quoting unpublished statistics, so Mr Little had no chance of checking that himself, and nor did anyone else. Ministers should not be asking the public to take their word for it on something so important.

Mr Hunt is counting his chickens before they’ve hatched. “We’ve put a billion pounds extra of resources into the NHS” isn’t something that has happened yet, and nor have many of the improvements it’s meant to pay for. But it is something that the government has publicly committed to making happen. That plan is public, and it has support from mental health experts and charities.

The reality right now is hard to know but probably at best much more mixed.

The mental health data we have is poor and limited. Despite years of politicians of different parties emphasising the importance of mental health, it turns out that no one really knows what they are talking about. The government’s own plan talked about a ‘black hole’ of data, which is only beginning to be tackled.

Mr Hunt was asking the impossible of Mr Little when he invited him to prove him wrong. The invitation was in effect an empty one: our factchecking proves how inadequate mental health data is and how much easier it is to make claims than to painstakingly back them up.

Source: Mental Health in England: Jeremy Hunt vs Ralf Little – Full Fact

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3 thoughts on “Fact-checkers get involved in Ralf Little – Jeremy Hunt debate, and it goes badly for Hunt

  1. Neti

    Money put into short term, revolving door type ‘therapies’ such as cbt help people to cope with the demands of this govt and do nothing to help those with enduring MH challenges created by years of an abusive societal system.

    Much of the money is being used to place cbt therapists in GP waiting rooms and to train the work coaches. This is creating a storm within professional bodies and for supervisors as the ethics of therapy can only be applied if the applicant is a willing participant and is presenting with a self identified challenge.

    The moves by this govt to suppress real long term talking therapies with cuts to MH services and replace them with behavioural sciences only serves those shareholders who are enabling the privatisation of the nHS.

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