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Cash boost for talking therapies

GPs look set to gain a significant boost in access to talking therapies after the Government gave the strongest signal yet that it would provide the cash.

In an exclusive letter to Pulse, Treasury official Clare Barras confirmed access to therapy would be a major focus of the 2007 comprehensive spending review.

The Department of Health is known to be pressing for funding for therapists, but this is the first indication the Treasury is ready to oblige. It suggests the Pulse Action on Depression campaign may be close to success.

But the letter also makes clear than an expansion in access to therapy will be aimed predominantly at the long-term unemployed – raising concerns that children and the elderly could miss out.

The letter, in response to one to Chancellor Gordon Brown, says the department's psychological therapy pilot sites will be evaluated for the comprehensive spending review.

Treasury officials are awaiting results with 'much interest' with the aim of establishing 'numbers of staff, skills and training requirements to improve access to psychological therapies', the letter said.

A second review will feed into the spending review with 'the key aim of improving the employment rate of people with mental health conditions'.

But experts in mental health warned the Government could not afford to restrict an expansion in therapy access only to those absent from work.

Dr Ian Walton, a GPSI in mental health in Tipton, West Midlands, said: 'It's a danger and something we should make sure doesn't happen. One of the problems is the extra funding has gone into secondary care.'

The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health said: 'There obviously is a risk it will be only for people who are not at work. That will not be terribly helpful.'

A recent report from Government adviser Lord Richard Layard estimated depression and anxiety cost the UK £12 billion a year in lost economic output.

But Dr Chris Manning, chief executive of Primary Care Mental Health and Education, insisted: 'The message of Layard's analysis is not just limited to getting people back to work.'

The development comes as a letter leaked to the Observer revealed the department expects to miss key targets for child mental health care. The department refused to comment on the letter but admitted: 'They are challenging targets.'

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