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Councils 'should use NHS land to build supported housing'

Local authorities should work with the DCLG, the Department of Health, NHS England and the Treasury to explore the case for using NHS land to create more supported housing for vulnerable people with mental health issues, the much-awaited mental health taskforce said in its final report today.

The taskforce, created last year to identify and help plug gaps in mental health services in England, underlined the “critical importance” of housing to prevent mental health problems and promoting recovery.

Local government has a particularly important role in this, it said – especially in creating local Mental Health Prevention Plans based on high-quality evidence, “building on the success of local Crisis Care Concordat plans”.

Overall, cuts to council budgets are leading to rising pressures on essential components of mental health care, such as social care and residential housing, the taskforce, chaired by Mind charity chief executive Paul Farmer, said.

There is also wide variation in spending in NHS and local authorities, particularly for children and young people. Despite a general push for service integration between councils and NHS bodies as part of devolution deals, commissioning of services remains fragmented.

Some service commissioning has also been broken down in recent years. Alcohol and substance misuse services, for example, were transferred from the NHS to councils, leading to the closure of specialist NHS addiction inpatient units.

As a result, referral pathways became more complex, with many people with mental health and substance abuse problems no longer receiving “planned and holistic” care.

The report did acknowledge that there is “increasing interest in ‘population-based’ commissioning, either by pooling budgets or through joint decision-making with other commissioners, and a number of places are combining spending power across health and social care”.

But it added: “However, there is a long way to go to achieve integrated, population-based commissioning that is crucial for improving mental health outcomes, and incorporates specialised commissioning.”

Describing the Crisis Care Concordat action plans as a promising model for integrated local commissioning, the taskforce said councils should work together with other local bodies to build resilience, promote good mental health and make it easier for children to access high-quality care.

“This builds on a range of existing legislation that concerns children and young people and which requires agencies to take a coordinated approach. The Plans are also important because they address the full spectrum of need, including children and young people who have a particular vulnerability to mental health problems,” the report continued.

In terms of the upcoming housing benefit cap to local housing allowance levels, the taskforce recommends the Department for Work and Pensions must use evidence to ensure that the right levels of protection are in place for those with mental health needs who require specialist supported housing – even though this type of stock is exempt from rent reductions this year.

To deliver the report’s wide-ranging recommendations, many of which include “deliberately challenging” targets, the taskforce said councils must work with partners to develop a “costed, multi-disciplinary workforce strategy for the future shape and skill mix of the workforce required”.

In response to the entire taskforce report, which included 31 recommendations in total, health secretary Jeremy Hunt MP said the government will pour another £1bn a year into mental health services to help an extra one million people in need.

It will also make strides to establish 24-hour, seven-days-a-week community care for those suffering from mental health crises.

(Top image c. Sean Dempsey, PA Images)


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