A Freedom of Information request by the Independent on Sunday has revealed that 89 NHS trusts have spent almost £2 million on artwork since 2010. The newspaper estimates that this figure is likely to be much higher with 222 trusts across the country.
Unbelievably, NHS England employs ‘Art Coordinators’ on a salary of £56,000 per year and their excuse for this unnecessary waste of taxpayers money is that they are “…usually qualified professionals with a broad knowledge of the arts”.
A small selection of the art:
- £8,000 steel giraffes at Tameside Hospital in Greater Manchester
- £83,000 water feature at Salford Royal
- £37,000 on 500 frames at Salford Royal
- £60,000 on photograph mounts at Salford Royal
- £120,000 “ceiling artwork” at Barts and Royal London
- £13,600 on a metal-and-glass sphere, designed by Michael Condron at Aintree University Hospitals Trust
- £2,310 for six pictures of medicinal herbs by Lesley Whelan at The Heart of England NHS Trust
The overall excuse for this disgusting waste is that the art is of therapeutic benefit, although we wonder how much of it is inpatient areas and not on the walls of chairman’s offices.
As front-line services are squeezed to breaking point there can be no justification for such excess. If art is required there are many other cheaper options available. One trust boasted of being “the largest art gallery in Liverpool” – have they forgotten that they are supposed to be providing healthcare?
Figures released by the National Audit Office show that at least 10,000 staff have been laid off in the past three years as trusts have been ordered to find savings of £20 billion by 2015.
Another Freedom of Information request made by the BBC shows that mental health trusts have had their budgets cut by more than 2% in real terms over the past two years, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned that mental health services are at breaking point and unsafe.
During the same period, referrals to crisis and community mental health teams have risen by 16%, putting an enormous strain on already overstretched resources.
The pressure on crisis and community health services is highlighted by information provided to the online journal Community Care.
Using data provided under a separate Freedom of Information request, they found that:
- Budgets for ‘crisis resolution teams’ fell by 1.7% in real terms compared to 2011/12. Referrals rose 16%. These are the staff who provide intensive home treatment in an effort to prevent acutely unwell people being admitted to hospital.
- Budgets for community mental health teams shrunk by 0.03% in real terms since 2011/12 but referrals have risen 13%. These teams give ongoing support to patients to prevent their health deteriorating to crisis point.
“Mind hears all the time from people who have lost the community health care that was helping them to cope and who now find themselves unable to get through to their local crisis team,” said Paul Farmer.
“They feel ‘fobbed off’ when they do, because there simply aren’t enough staff to cope with the numbers of people in desperate need of help.”
An analysis of the board papers of mental health trusts and reports from the Care Quality Commission shows the problems in the system:
- Patients in Cornwall receiving dismissive advice, with one being told “I am the only one working, don’t kill yourself on my shift”.
- Community health teams in Bradford complaining of “unmanageably high caseloads”.
- Patients in need of an urgent assessment in Barnet, north London, not being seen for five weeks.
- Crisis teams in Kent spending as little as 10 minutes with patients. Mental health services in England are facing budget cuts despite the government’s promise to protect health spending.
The hard fact for many people with mental health problems is that unless they are in desperate crisis there is no help available to them.