By Lilian Anekwe, Alisdair Stirling
The Government has promised £400m in extra funding to extend its flagship talking therapies programme to children and young people, despite warnings it could be undermined by cuts to mental health services.
The new strategy for mental illness published this week, No health without mental health, outlines the extension of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Programme – as first revealed by Pulse two years ago.
Care services minister Paul Burstow said the evidence for including children and adolescents in the programme had become ‘compelling'.
Pulse first revealed in January 2009 that children were set to be included in the IAPT programme, after a report by influential academic Lord Richard Layard was submitted to ministers.
Mr Burstow signalled the expansion of the IAPT programme so that by March 2015 ‘wherever a patient lives in the country they will have open access to talking therapies'.
Child and adolescent mental health services will be redesigned to allow existing mental health workers to be retrained and redeployed to offer talking therapies to children. GPs will be able to refer younger patients, who can also self-refer to local services.
The programme will also be extended to older patients and those with severe mental illnesses and long-term physical health problems – in total over two million additional patients.
The Department of Health estimates that currently 60% of GPs are able to refer patients for NICE-approved therapies, and have set the target of full coverage, which would see 3.2 million people treated by the end of the spending review period in March 2015.
In an economic analysis published alongside the strategy, the DH estimates that the £400m investment will yield over £700m in savings to the public sector.
But campaigners warned the Government's efforts could be undermined by the vicious cuts to NHS services, which Pulse revealed in November were hitting the flagship scheme.
Despite earlier pledges from health secretary Andrew Lansley to protect funding for the IAPT programme, three PCTs in Birmingham will decommission IAPT services from 31 March next year, with any future investment set to be drastically scaled back.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: ‘We now have a clear plan on mental health but it is set against a backdrop of sweeping reforms to the NHS. Basic services must continue to operate on a local level despite tightening budgets so that the continuity of care received by service users in the community is not jeopardised.
‘The Government has acknowledged that making cuts to mental health is a false economy, storing up problems in the long run with costly consequences. It's important, now more than ever, that sensible decisions are taken about the future of mental health funding.'
Care services minister Paul Burstow warned PCTs to consider the consequences of ‘disinvesting' in mental health services. ‘Mental health tends to be the service that benefits least in times of plenty and is first to be cut in times of deficit.
‘Commissioners need to look at the consequences of disinvesting in early interventions because it often shunts patients further down the pathway to acute services that cost more.'Credit: Anita Patterson, Morguefile Access to talking therapies extended to children