King’s Fund urges savings to control mental health costs hike

The King’s Fund has said that mental health service costs in England look set to double over the next 20 years unless savings are made.

In a report today, the health think-tank said more cases of dementia and projected above-inflation increases in health and social care costs would lift the annual bill from £22bn to £47bn. It said the prevalence of other conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia, would remain relatively stable.

The findings came in a year-long review into long-term mental health costs, which follows the fund’s heralded review of older people’s social care costs, led by Derek Wanless.

£26bn lost to economy

The report found that the overall costs of mental ill-health approached £50bn, with £26bn lost to the economy. It estimated this latter figure would rise to £41bn by 2026.

The study found significant levels of unmet need, estimating that 35% of those with depression and 51% of those with anxiety disorders were not in contact with services.

It suggested net savings in the overall costs of mental ill health could be made if treatment was extended to those who currently did not access services as the costs would be outweighed by increases in employment levels.

Other recommendations to improve the cost-effectiveness of care included expanding crisis services in the community for people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, and early intervention for those with psychosis to help reduce “expensive” hospital inpatient days. The think-tank also called for better systems of early detection and treatment of dementia.

Question marks against psychological therapies drive

However, the study also threw into question whether the government’s drive to roll out psychological therapies – announced last October and backed by substantial funding – would prove cost-effective.

The study said: “Depending on their success rate and the growth in real earnings among people who return to work as a result, they may prove a costly option.” It recommended more focus on cheaper ways of delivering care, such as computer-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy.

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