Failure to invest in preventive child mental health services is a false economy, a government-commissioned report has found – at a time the coalition is being blamed for cuts in the sector.
The report, published by the Department of Health and the London School of Economics, found that every £1 spent on parenting programmes to prevent chronic child behavioural problems saves the UK £8 over a child’s lifetime.
Specialist early intervention teams working with children during their first episode of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder save £18 for every £1 invested and suicide training for GPs saves £44 for every £1 spent, the report said.
Professor Martin Knapp, who led the research team, said the report showed that many of the 15 interventions his team studied offer “outstandingly good value”. He added: “Most are low in cost and many become self-financing over time, saving public expenditure as well as radically improving the quality of people’s lives.”
Sarah Brennan, the chief executive of mental health charity Youngminds, said the report showed how important early intervention was and expressed concern that some teams were being lost.
“We know that 50% of adults with mental illness were diagnosed as teenagers but that 75% of them received no help,” she said. “We must improve access to the help teenagers receive.
“We’re now hearing that early intervention teams are being absorbed into generic child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) teams and are worried the proven successful work they do will be lost.”
The charity Rethink Mental Health has previously called on the government to act after it emerged that 6,000 mental health jobs were to be lost from the NHS, threatening vulnerable people ministers promised to protect.
Meanwhile, trade union Unite is organising a protest in south London on 26 April against proposed cuts by South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and Lewisham Council to local Camhs, worth £500,000.
Unite said the cuts would represent a reduction of nearly 25% of the entire service and result in fewer frontline workers and longer waiting lists for children. They would affect frontline Camhs social workers and services delivered to looked-after children.
“This attack on services comes after the coalition promised to protect frontline NHS services and when, only last month, the No Health Without Mental Health government strategy highlighted the need for local and accessible child mental health services,” said Richard Munn, Unite regional officer.
“Hypocrisy and inequality seem to be the name of the game when it comes to maintaining these vital services in Lewisham.”
However, care services minister Paul Burstow said: “Mental health is not a matter of them and us, it’s about all of us. The coalition government has made investment in mental health a priority. This report makes a powerful economic case for that investment.”
“Primary care trusts and GP consortia should take a careful look at this study and use it to commission better mental health services.”
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