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IAPT services to cooperate with long Covid clinics under pandemic mental health plan


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NHS talking therapy services will be funded to link up with long Covid clinics as part of efforts to mitigate the mental health impacts of the pandemic, the Government has said.

It comes amid concerns about the mental health impact of the pandemic, with more than 40% of people recently estimated to suffer trauma following Covid-19 infection

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) this weekend published its Covid-19 mental health recovery plan for England, which set out how a £500m investment into mental health care in 2021/22 will be spent.

The plan pledged that implementation of the NHS long-term plan will mean 380,000 more people per year will be able to access NICE-approved talking therapy services by 2023 to 2024.

NHS talking therapy services, also known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services, will be backed by £38m to become ‘better equipped to deliver access, waiting time and recovery standards’ and treat ‘common’ mental health conditions, it said.

It added: ‘As part of this, we will train additional therapists to bring more capacity into those services, particularly to deliver higher intensity interventions, to better meet the needs of more complex cases arising. 

‘Funding will also be used to strengthen links between NHS talking therapy services and long Covid assessment clinics to support more streamlined assessment and access to treatment.’

Other benefits of implementing the long-term plan according to the document include:

  • ‘Improvements’ to primary and community mental health care alongside an ‘expansion’ of mental health services, so that two million more people per year will have access to support by 2023-24;
  • Access to mental health services for 345,000 more children and young people each year by 2023-24;
  • Access to specialist perinatal mental health care for 66,000 women by 2023-24;
  • Development of new integrated primary and community mental health care for those with drug or alcohol addiction.

It said £14m will be invested ‘across primary and secondary care’ to work with voluntary and community partners on ‘tailored outreach’ for those with severe mental illness (SMI) to increase physical health check, Covid and flu vaccine uptake.

And the rollout of a ‘modernised community mental health framework’ will be backed by £58m to ‘bring forward’ the expansion of integrated primary and secondary care for adults with SMI and embed mental health practitioners into PCNs, it added.

Meanwhile, the plan said 12 pilot sites for ‘integrated’ mental health services for the under-25s have also received funding, as part of £13m set aside for improvements to mental health support for this group.

It said: ‘The NHS long-term plan commits to the development of a comprehensive mental health offer for 0 to 25 year-olds. 

‘Services have developed proposals on how they will deliver this new integrated approach to young adult mental health services and 12 pilot sites have received additional funds to test these new models of integrated care.’

In December, new NICE guidance recommended that GPs should consider referring long Covid patients to specialist clinics as soon as four weeks after acute infection, after ruling out other diagnoses.

And NHS England announced that 69 long Covid clinics were in place around the country, with more sites expected to open in January.

But GPs warned that access to the clinics is patchy, with only one fifth (21%) of GPs saying they currently had access to a clinic in their local area.