The latest data on NHS mental health spending comes amid concern the pandemic has exacerbated eating disorders in young people, sparking a rise in demand.
A report commissioned by MPs compiled by the eating disorder charity Beat, using NHS data, shows local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), who purchase NHS services on behalf of NHS England, spent just £1.1m of the £11m they were given for community eating disorder services in 2019-20.
The money was set aside by NHS England to try and tackle increasing referrals and to ensure young people could get treatment.
The report, commissioned by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Eating Disorders and researched by Beat, is based on an analysis of financial data published by NHS England.
Only 15 per cent of CCGs increased their spending in line with the extra funding while more than a fifth actually spent less than they did in 2018-19.
A total of 41 per cent of local commissioning groups spent less on community eating disorders than the total amount of extra cash they were given.
Spending varied across the country with spend per head ranging from £12.71 in one area to just 66p in another.
Wera Hobhouse MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eating Disorders, and which commissioned the work said: “Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, and we know that early intervention and access to specialist treatment saves lives.
“NHS England has continued to allocate extra funding to clinical commissioning groups for children and young people’s community eating disorder services, but this report shows that much more needs to be done to ensure this money reaches the frontline services, particularly now as they face unprecedented numbers of referrals.”
Beat reported a 173 per cent increase in demand for support between February 2020 and January 2021 while NHS admissions data showed 21,794 hospital admissions for eating disorders in 2017 to 2020, a 32 per cent rise, with children accounting for almost a quarter of patients.
Andrew Radford, chief executive at Beat, said: “It is completely unacceptable that so many CCGs spent so little despite the extra funding they were given. These figures pre-date the coronavirus pandemic, which has increased pressure on eating disorder services, so it is now more urgent than ever that allocated funding makes it to frontline services.
“The government must hold NHS leaders to account to make sure every penny goes towards benefiting children and young people in need of help.”
Data on spending during the pandemic is not expected to be published by NHS England until later this year.
Repeated concerns over mental health funding being diverted to other NHS services led to new rules on spending from NHS England known as the mental health investment standard designed to ringfence some budgets. But eating disorder services are not specifically covered.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s mental health director, said: “The pandemic has turned lives upside down, hitting young people particularly hard, and the NHS has responded rapidly to an increase in those coming forward for help with eating disorders – we are now treating more children and young people than ever before.
“Local health areas should absolutely be using this funding to deal with increased demand and treatment continues to be a priority – funding will increase again this year with the aim of treating an additional 2,000 children and young people with an eating disorder.”
NHS England said it had seen a doubling in the number of children and young people with urgent need coming forward and a 60 per cent rise in routine cases during the first nine months of 2020-21.