Peer support reduces NHS mental health costs but improves outcomes, states report

Service users supporting each other can reduce NHS mental health costs while improving outcomes, says a new report.

‘Peer support’ is when people use knowledge from their own experience to help others through distress.

It also enables people using services to get into paid work as part of their recovery, according to a report by the King’s Fund and the Centre for Mental Health.

The report, ‘Mental health and the productivity challenge – Improving quality and value for money’, was published yesterday in response to a government demand that the NHS find £20bn of efficiency savings by 2014.

Mental health accounts for 12% of the NHS budget.

The report lists many ways in which productivity can be improved. In particular, it suggests:

  • reducing unnecessary bed use in acute and secure psychiatric wards
  • reviewing the use of highly-expensive out-of-area mental health treatments, particularly forensic services.
  • improving workforce productivity
  • better tackling of the physical health of people with mental health problems.

But the report also highlights ‘growing evidence’ that peer support can reduce psychiatric hospitalisation and demand for other services.

For example, a peer support project in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, claims to have reduced psychiatric hospitalisations.

“An expansion in peer support is something that many user groups have advocated for years,” adds the report.

“Further research is needed on cost-effectiveness, but some evidence suggests that net savings can be made at the same time as increasing the quality of care.

“There is a particularly strong case for using peer support to deliver care to specific populations, such as homeless people, or minority groups.”

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