NHS 'rationing': The most vulnerable patients are paying the price

Last week ITV News revealed that almost three quarters of doctors admitted rationing care, as the NHS struggles with a financial crisis.

That report struck a chord. Many of you got in touch to tell us how you too couldn't get the treatment you need.

And in the vast majority of cases, it was yawning gaps in mental health care that you told us about.

Our investigation was timely, because today an influential group of MPs warned that the government's plans to improve mental health services are in danger of going nowhere - because of a lack of money.

The Public Accounts Committee - the government's spending watchdog - examined how much cash has been allocated to making mental health care as good as the treatment you get for physical conditions.

The government calls that "parity of esteem" and has promised to achieve it - a goal the Committee describes as a "laudable ambition".

But after scrutinising the NHS budget the MP's concluded "We are sceptical about whether this is affordable, or achievable without compromising other services"

The caseload of some doctors has tripled in just three years. Credit: PA

One of the viewers who got in touch with us was Ramya Kumar, a mother from Swindon whose nine-year-old son Rishi is autistic.

Over the past three years his access to a paediatrician has been cut dramatically.

Ramya's been told that is because there aren't enough doctors to cope with demand.

She told me: "It started with us having an appointment every three months, then every six months. Now it's just once a year.

"The pressure on the doctors is so much that while they used to see 300 children per month, now it's been more than tripled".

More rationing is on the way, doctors told ITV News.

The Kumars' experience echoes the Committee's findings.

It concluded that despite the NHS making "important first steps" only one in four people needing mental health services were actually offered them.

With a quarter of us getting diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in our lives, its a sobering diagnosis.

Over the next five years, the government has promised more money for mental health services.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "As the Public Accounts Committee has recognised, we have made important progress in the way we think about and treat mental illness in this country.

"We... are backing the NHS plan to revolutionise mental health care with an additional £1 billion invested every year by 2020 - helping one million more people with mental illness access high quality care."

A quarter of people will be diagnosed with mental illness at some point in their lives. Credit: Mind

But the Public Affairs Committee points out "the money is not ring-fenced".

Which brings us back to the kind of rationing decisions many doctors told ITV News they are already having to make.

The Committee Chair Meg Hillier told ITV News: "We are already seeing difficult decisions being made about rationing, so there has to be a national conversation about this.

"It's going to be very difficult to deliver what every patient needs both physically and mentally".

Committee chair Meg Hillier said rationing is a national issue which needs to be addressed. Credit: ITV News

That conversation can't be put off much longer.

NHS England is being asked to find £3 billion in savings this financial year - yet by the end of the last one, the deficit faced by England's hospitals stood at £3.7 billion.

Its clear there is a growing gap between the services we want the NHS to provide and the money available to fund them.

And right now, it seems some of the most vulnerable patients are paying the price.

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