A SIGNIFICANT number of people with mental health problems in Oxfordshire are at risk of being denied support because of ‘serial underfunding’, union leaders have claimed.

Unite has raised concerns about the reorganisation of specialist psychology services at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust amid what it says is a lack of funding from Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG).

Bosses at the union claim that psychological therapies in the area have lost about 90 per cent of their most senior clinicians in the decade since 2007.

According to the union, OCCG spending on mental health services is falling below ‘the parity of esteem’ - the principle where mental health must be given equal priority to physical health, as stated by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act - and more funding is desperately needed.

The CCG admitted that a review into the level of need, performance and investment in mental health services was underway after Oxford Health highlighted pressures on the service.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said the CCG ranked in the bottom half of national spending on mental health labelling it a ‘serial under-funder’.

He added: “We need to reverse this alarming trend to avoid the nightmare scenario of mentally ill people falling through the care net.”

In 2017/18 OCCG spent £73.6 million on mental health and learning disabilities, out of a total budget of £867.9 million.

Ian Bottomley, head of mental health and joint commissioning at OCCG, said: “What we currently invest has been enough to meet national targets in relation to improving access to psychological therapies, early intervention in psychosis and dementia.

“OCCG is required to increase funding for mental health by an amount equivalent to the total increase in OCCG funding.

“We have achieved this investment standard in 2017/18, and are planning to do so in 2018/19 and in future years to expand access to services as set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View."

The CCG has two contracts with Oxford Health to provide mental health services: Talking Space Plus – which provides psychology and wellbeing support for people with mild to moderate anxiety and depression – and psychology services for people with severe mental illness.

A spokesperson for the trust said: “Nationally, OCCG receives the lowest funding per head of any CCG in the country, and since there is a significant demand for acute services as well, resources for mental health and community services are inevitably limited.

“While funding levels are set nationally and are beyond local control, we are working with the local CCG and our other local partners to find out how best to address this inequity.”