Social media firms must share the burden with the health service as it battles mental health issues in young people, the head of NHS England has said.
Setting out the health service’s key priorities for the future as it marks its 70th year, Simon Stevens, the body’s chief executive, warned of a “double epidemic affecting our children” that also included obesity.
“It is obvious that there is more unmet need for young people’s mental health services than probably any other part of the health service,” he said in his keynote address at the NHS Confederation annual conference in Manchester.
Between 2010-11 and 2016-17, health spending increased by an average of 1.2% above inflation and increases are due to continue in real terms at a similar rate until the end of this parliament. This is far below the annual inflation-proof growth rate that the NHS enjoyed before 2010 of almost 4% stretching back to the 1950s. As budgets tighten, NHS organisations have been struggling to live within their means. In the financial year 2015-16, acute trusts recorded a deficit of £2.6bn. This was reduced to £800m last year, though only after a £1.8bn bung from the Department of Health, which shows the deficit remained the same year on year.
“The conversation, though, around young people’s mental health has got to be wider than just about what the NHS can do.
“This is certainly about schools, but we also have to ask some pretty searching questions around the role of technology companies, social media, and the impact that that is having on childhood.
“So, this cannot be a conversation that is simply left to the National Health Service to pick up the pieces – for an epidemic of mental health challenge for our young people induced by many other actors across our economy.”
He said the NHS must “lock in” progress on cancer and mental health, while also prioritising the integration of social care as it considers plans for the next five to 10 years.
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Obesity was also highlighted as a key issue for the health service. “It is absolutely true that we need to be more physically active,” Stevens said. “But that by itself is not going to deal with what’s happening to our food and drink calorific environment.
“That said – here is a key fact for you – on average in this country we spend twice as much time on the toilet than we do exercising.”
The prime minister, Theresa May, has pledged a long-term funding settlement for the NHS, which celebrates its 70th anniversary next month. “I want that to be done in conjunction with NHS leaders and provide a multi-year funding settlement consistent with our fiscal rules and balanced approach,” she told parliament’s health and social care select committee in March.
“Ensuring the NHS can cope with demand ahead of the spending review, I would suggest we can’t wait until next Easter. I think in this 70th anniversary year of the NHS’s foundation we need an answer on this.”
The prime minister did not say how much more money the long-term plan could involve. But Stevens told the audience he was “heartened” by the commitment to securing a deal.