The number of people accessing talking therapy through the NHS for conditions such as anxiety and depression has increased by 21.5%, according to the latest data.
In 2021/22, 1.24 million referrals accessed the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, compared to 1.02 million the previous year, according to latest NHS Digital statistics.
The programme centres around NICE-approved treatments such as counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and peer support for depression and anxiety disorders.
A Pulse survey earlier this year revealed that pressure on counselling services mean two thirds of GPs are having to provide specialist mental health support beyond their competence.
And mental health charity Mind noted that just 50.2% of referrals completing IAPT treatment 2021/22 – and 51.4% the previous year – moved to recovery, according to NHS Digital’s Psychological Therapies: Annual Report on the use of IAPT services in England.
‘There’s such a long way to go,’ said the head of health, policy and campaigns at Mind, Paul Spencer.
‘We know timely and appropriate treatment can make all the difference for those of us with mental health problems, so we’re pleased that the NHS has rightly met some of its ambitious targets for people who need access to talking therapies. However, we’re still concerned that IAPT only meets the needs of 50% of the people who access it.’
The increase in referrals accessing the IAPT services is against a backdrop of a 24.5% increase in the overall number of referrals – up from 1.46 million in 2020/21 to 1.81 million in 2021/22.
‘When a patient is referred to an IAPT service, they are first assessed for suitability and to identify suitable treatment,’ the report says.
‘For many patients with mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety or depression, a low intensity intervention is first recommended, with other, higher intensity therapies offered if necessary.’
According to NHS Digital’s analysis, CBT was given most frequently in 2021/22, accounting for 46.3% of all courses of therapy in the year. This has increased from 38.5% in 2020/21.
CBT and guided self-help (book) together account for 72.7% of all courses of therapy in 2021/22 – an increase from 65.5% the previous year.
Meanwhile, the number of referrals completing a course of treatment increased by 4.6%, from 634,649 in 2020/21 to 664,087 this year.
Mr Spencer said: ‘Different therapies work well for different people, so when someone needs help, it’s crucial that they get the tailored support they need.
‘IAPT services are seeing increased complexity in the people presenting to them, which is reflected in the increase in the number of average sessions [up from 7.5 sessions in 2020/21 to 7.9 in 2021/22].
‘But with over a million people still waiting to access mental health support, the UK government must urgently and dramatically commit to improving mental health services both nationally and locally to make sure that everyone gets the right care, in the right place, at the right time.
‘This also must include offering a range of treatments so that people with mental health problems can find what is most effective for them.’