The NHS will pay a high price for short-term mental health cuts
Mental health has always got a raw deal when it comes to funding. Historically, it’s not been taken as seriously as physical health, and even now mental health problems account for 23% of the total impact of ill health in the UK but get just 13% of the NHS budget.
But despite years of chronic underfunding and increasing demand, the small pot of money it does have has been cut by 2% in real terms over the last two years. On top of this, NHS England recently decided to effectively cut mental health by 20% more than acute hospitals, this financial year.
You might reasonably ask, in a climate where almost every area of Government spending is being cut back, why should mental health be any different?
The reason in simple – cutting back on quality care for people with mental health problems will cost the NHS, and society at large, much more in the long-term. In short, mental health is an expensive cut to make.
A new report released today by my charity, Rethink Mental Illness and the London School of Economics, shows how money can be saved when proven interventions for people with schizophrenia and psychosis are available.
For example, Early Intervention services, which take a holistic approach to treating young people swiftly when they first experience psychosis, create savings for the NHS of £15 for every £1 spent. That’s mostly because people who get Early Intervention are far less likely to deteriorate to the point where they need expensive hospital care.
Not only is this a much cheaper way of doing things – it costs £350 a day to support someone in hospital, compared to just £13 a day in the community – it can also be much less traumatic for patients.
As The Schizophrenia Commission highlighted in 2012, many inpatient wards are over-stretched and under-staffed, which can mean some people end up getting worse rather than better during their stay. Negative experiences of hospital can lead to patients becoming permanently alienated from the mental health system and scared to go back.
If people get the help they need early on, they are much less likely to need to go into hospital. Despite this, 50% of Early Intervention teams have faced cuts in the last year.
It’s this kind of short-term thinking that will end up costing the NHS in the years to come. When times are tough, it’s services like Early Intervention which are often first in the firing line for cuts. But this means people being left to reach crisis point and needing more expensive care, later down the line.
We’re already starting to see the impact that cuts to community mental health services are having. The number of people reaching crisis point and being detained against their will under the Mental Health Act or ‘sectioned’ hit a record high in 2012-13, topping 50,000 for the first time. This marks a startling 12% rise in five years.
These figures show that something is going very wrong. We’re spending far too much of the mental health budget on desperately trying to limit the damage when crisis hits, rather than intervening to prevent it happening in the first place.
We’ve seen this shift in other areas of medicine such as cancer treatment, where swift, early treatment is a priority. We need to see the same change in emphasis for people with schizophrenia and psychosis.
Investing in quality community services for people with severe mental illness will mean less of a need for expensive hospital beds. But even more importantly, it will mean a fairer deal for people affected and a much better chance of recovery.
Download a copy of the Investing in Recovery report.
Rachel is the News and Media Manager for Rethink Mental Illness, you can follow her on Twitter via @rachel_rethink