Sometimes you feel news stories simply state the obvious, and one such story last week did exactly that: ‘Urgent need to invest in mental health, says Joint Commissioning Panel’. But just because it is obvious, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said. Repeatedly.
The crux of the news story was that new guidance from the Joint Commissioning Panel makes the case that investing in effective mental health treatment, prevention and promotion leads to significant economic savings, even in the short-term. This, it is hoped, can help to bring down the estimated £105 billion annual cost to the economy of mental health problems. As the economy continues to struggle, such return on investment is doubly important.
There is nothing new in any of those statements. For many years, researchers, professionals and service users alike have been saying that prevention and early intervention are easier – and cheaper – than cure. Acute services are costly, but lower-level services, which can help people avoid the need for the former, are cheaper.
Research backs this up too: the London School of Economics has estimated that promoting mental health at work results in net savings of £10 for each £1 spent even after one year. Early intervention for depression at work results in net savings of £5 for each £1 spent.
However, for a myriad of reasons, early intervention and prevention services have remained patchy at best around the UK, although it should be acknowledged that there are some very good ones out there. But as usual with mental health care – and healthcare in general – where you live tends to determine whether you can access such a service or not. Cuts to mental health budgets in recent years have not helped either.
But despite the need for more investment in treatment, prevention and wellbeing services being obvious, it is worth renewing the call. As the Joint Commissioning Panel points out, upcoming changes in the NHS, such as the disbanding of Primary Care Groups to be replaced by Health and Wellbeing Boards and Clinical Commissioning Groups, present opportunities to re-assess the size and costs of gaps in local provision for treatment and prevention of mental health problems as well as to consider how to more effectively promote wellbeing.
As only a minority of people who need mental health services actually receive them, the new groups have to take this opportunity to ensure more of them get the mental health care they need. Guidance such as the Commissioning Panel’s, as well as public and professional pressure, is needed to give this the best chance of happening. The new groups just have to listen. Let’s hope they do.