Psychiatrists have warned that Scotland faces a “mental health catastrophe” amid a funding freeze announced in the 2023/24 budget.
Experts from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) in Scotland said the budget statement set out by Deputy First Minister John Swinney on Thursday did not include a funding uplift for mental health services.
Concerns around mental health funding have been exacerbated by plans to create a national care service which would centralise the social care sector.
Funding for the sector rose from £273.9m in 2021/22 to £290.2m in 2023.
However, funding for the upcoming financial year – 2023/24 – was frozen at this rate.
The draft budget also announced health and social care and mental health will be frozen at £120m, recovery and renewal at £3.7m and community health and wellbeing at £15m.
Mr Swinney, who is acting as Finance Secretary, announced income-tax rates for higher and top rate earners will be increased by 1p to raise around £1bn which will be used to help the NHS recover from the pandemic.
Dr Pavan Srireddy, consultant psychiatrist and policy lead at RCP Scotland, said it was disappointing the organisation’s call for a 10% uplift in mental health funding – promised by both government parties SNP and the Greens in their 2021 manifestos – was not guaranteed.
Dr Srireddy also criticised plans for a national care service at a time when the social care sector needed urgent support.
He said: “What we have here is a mental health catastrophe in the making.
“People are really struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, which is having an enormous toll on their mental health.
“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.
“It’s quite astonishing that during this time budgets for mental health care are 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.
“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.
“We need firm assurances we will see this promised uplift.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson 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.
“We will continue to invest in wellbeing and prevention alongside early intervention and improving mental health services.”