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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

We must avoid mistakes of the past in fighting the economic downturn

Embargoed until 12 November 2009

A major new report sets out the case for mental health services as the economy faces its longest recession since records began and mental health problems look set to rise.

The report, Mental Health and the Economic Downturn, is a joint publication from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the London School of Economics and the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network.

Through increased debt problems, family breakdown and job losses, mental health issues are likely to increase as the recession hits - and this is occurring at the same time as critical decisions about existing and future NHS spending on mental health services are being made.

The report sets out what the main mental health challenges for the NHS are, such as helping to keep people in work, intervening early and public health strategies. It goes on to give possible solutions to these challenges through: 

  • re-designing the 'pathways' used to care for service users, with an emphasis on clinicians and managers leading this work together.
  • simultaneously improving quality and value for money, and fostering innovation in the way services are provided. 
  • encouraging initiatives that will save money elsewhere in the system (such as investing in mental health diversion schemes for people with mental health problems who come into contact with the criminal justice system). 

Professor Dinesh Bhugra, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "It's all too easy in times of economic hardship for commissioners and providers of services to see short-term cuts as the solution. However, such action would be grossly short-sighted and would undoubtedly deliver long-term pain.

"During these times of economic downturn, it's vital that careful investment is made in mental health services and prevention programmes. Clinicians and managers need to work together to address these challenges."

Steve Shrubb, director of the Mental Health Network, which represents the majority of NHS mental health trusts, said: “The NHS is facing a once in a generation challenge as it heads into a spending squeeze because of the recession. In the past, we have tended to react to reduced spending by cutting services across the board. We know such ‘slash and burn’ tactics will not work.

“Mental health services, which are not paid through the same tariff system the rest of the NHS uses, are especially susceptible to these tactics which carry serious long term consequences. We have to see this spending squeeze as an opportunity to look again at how we offer support and, with clinicians and managers working together, develop services that are not only better for patients but also better value for taxpayers.”

Martin Knapp, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said: "Unemployment, debt and poverty cause enormous stress. This would be absolutely the worst time to cut prevention budgets or treatment services. The NHS needs to work together with many other public bodies - and with employers and communities - to address this and help prevent as well as treat these needs.”

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896



Mental health and the economic downturn: National priorities and NHS Solutions (November 2009) Royal College of Psychiatrists, NHS Confederation Mental Health Network and the London School of Economics and Political Science


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