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Mental health and the productivity challenge: improving quality and value for money


The NHS is facing a significant financial challenge and needs to make substantial improvements in productivity if it is to provide high-quality services without additional funding.

Spending on mental health accounts for around 10 per cent of the overall health budget and so the mental health sector has a key role in responding to this challenge.

The King's Fund and Centre for Mental Health, with the support of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the NHS Confederation's Mental Health Network, have worked together to explore how mental health services could be delivered in a different and more cost-effective way. The consensus from their work, including an expert seminar and a review of evidence, is that there is scope for mental health services not only to improve their own productivity but also to support productivity improvements in other parts of the NHS.

Key areas of focus

The report focuses on four key areas:

  • immediate priorities for improving productivity in existing mental health services

  • what mental health services can offer to improve productivity in the NHS as a whole

  • the economic benefits beyond the NHS of improved mental health care

  • the longer-term challenge of building a preventive and empowering mental health system.

The report suggests that there are real opportunities to change the way mental health services are delivered in order to achieve more within existing budgets.

Of the improvement areas highlighted in the report, we consider that the following are the most promising targets for immediate attention:

  • reducing unnecessary bed use in acute and secure psychiatric wards

  • establishing systems to review the use of highly expensive out-of-area treatments

  • improving workforce productivity

  • strengthening the interface between mental and physical health care, particularly for older people and people with long-term conditions.

Many case studies and practical examples are included to illustrate these conclusions, and there are recommendations for action that involve everyone in the health service.