Investing in local children and young people’s mental health services improves care at lower cost, according to a report published today by Centre for Mental Health with the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network.

Bringing care back home, by Nick O’Shea, is an economic evaluation of six pilot programmes supported by NHS England to invest in local mental health services for children and young people to prevent them needing admission to hospital far from home. The six New Care Models initiatives have invested in a combination of intensive community services and local inpatient beds for children with the most acute mental health difficulties.

The report finds that all of the six areas managed to reduce the number of children being treated in hospitals outside their local area by meeting their needs more effectively close to home. By investing in local services they reduced the costs of care without compromising on quality.

Bringing care back home finds that for most children and young people, community-based mental health support is preferable to inpatient care, but that beds remain important for some. Local areas need a combination of both to offer the most effective pattern of services and avoid the need for children to be sent to beds far from home.

The report finds that the six sites all put clinical considerations first when making decisions about how to change their services. Cost reductions were incidental to improving quality of care.

Nick O’Shea said: “The New Care Models we reviewed have shown that doing the right thing for children and young people’s mental health makes financial sense too. NHS England has shown that supporting local areas to reinvest their money in services close to home can offer a better deal to young people with some of the most urgent and complex mental health needs. As more local areas adopt this approach, it is vital that the principles of the New Care Models are maintained and that good clinical care is always given precedence over any requirement to save money.”

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “Moving young people miles away from friends and family at a time when they are at their most vulnerable is deeply undesirable and undoubtedly distressing. Sadly, out of area placements have been too frequent because of a lack of services to support children and young people before they need inpatient care.

“Improvements are being made thanks to the NHS Long Term Plan and increased investment, and the New Models of Care are an important piece of the puzzle. They allow us to bring care back home, enable providers of care to work together better and establish a joined-up pathway of care rather than a patchwork of fragmented services.”