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Talking therapies scheme is working, evaluation finds

By Lilian Anekwe

An NHS evaluation of the Government's flagship Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme has found it is successfully treating patients with depression and anxiety and helping people off long-term incapacity benefit.

Some 12,000 people have accessed the psychological therapies services set up in first 11 pathfinder sites since July last year.

Since then, 49% of the 4,000 people who completed treatment no longer had a clinical diagnosis of depression or anxiety.

Mean PHQ-9 scores fell from 13.45 to 6.51 on completion of therapy, and mean GAD-7 scores fell from 12.1 to 6.1 – in both cases a significant improvement from moderate to non-clinical depression and anxiety.

Some 16% of service users were supported off benefits and back to work. Attendance at the pathfinders also decreased the average number of sick days for people who were in work during treatment, from 4.53 to 2.60 per month.

Service users waited an average of 25 working days for an initial assessment – 15 days longer than the national target, although many patients reported delaying their first appointment to consider their treatment options.

A further 35 PCTs joined the IAPT programme in April, and between 35 and 40 will be added to the programme, with a target of rolling out psychological therapies across half the country by 2011.

PCTs will be encouraged to increase access via self-referral. GPs in pathfinder PCTs are responsible for 90% of referrals, but programme leaders are keen to see a third of referrals arriving direct from the community. GPs will also be trained to take on a ‘clinical champion' role.

Dr Alan Cohen, national primary care lead for the IAPT programme, said the achievements so far were ‘extraordinary'.

He told Pulse: ‘We have made psychological therapies practical and available in primary care patients, which is fantastic. The finding that 49% of patients no longer have a clinical diagnosis after treatment is the sort you see in randomised controlled trials. To be able to duplicate that in practice is extraordinary.'

Talking therapies programme is helping people with depression and anxiety return to work

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