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Survey reveals lengthy delays to psychological therapy access



By Lilian Anekwe

Only 15% of GPs say their mentally ill patients are able to access psychological therapies within two months of referral, and only 6% of GPs say children are seen within this time.

A snapshot poll of 1,174 RCGP members asked if GPs were able to get adults and children seen within two months of referral – as stipulated in NICE guidance – usually, sometimes or rarely.

15% of GPs said they were able to access adult specialist services within two months and 6% said children were seen within two months (see box).

The survey was carried out as part of the College’s campaign for better access to psychological therapies, which challenges whichever political party becomes the next Government to guarantee within five years evidence-based psychological therapies to all who need them within 28 days of requesting referral.

The Department of Health has committed £170m toward the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.

But previous Pulse investigations have found as many as 60% of PCTs have shirked their legal responsibility to commission NICE-recommended psychological therapies, Beating the Blues for people with mild and moderate depression and FearFighter for people with panic and phobia.

Pulse also reported in January last year that the RCGP had begun lobbying for the IAPT programme to be expanded to include depressed children and adolescents, who Professor Field said still face long delays.

RCGP chair Professor Steve Field said: ‘Patients are entitled to the treatments which NICE recommends. There has been substantial improvement in the last few years but there is a long way to go.

‘It is essential that the current programme of IAPT is completed in the next Parliament with adequate funding for training and for employing extra therapists. The same is needed for children. Even if there is a financial squeeze, the evidence is that this will save the country money.’

Professor Lord Layard, programme director for wellbeing at the London School of Economics whose influential report on the economic impact of mental illness laid the foundations for the IAPT programme said:

‘IAPT has made very good progress, but it is still at a fragile stage if the political will is not behind it. We need to get mental health raised up as a national priority and see significant pressure on primary care trusts to invest.’

RCGP survey results

Q1. When adults are suffering from depression or anxiety disorders requiring specialist psychological therapy e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy (not just counselling), are you able to get them this treatment within two months?

Usually – 15% Sometimes – 20% Rarely – 65%

Q2. When children are suffering from emotional or conduct problems requiring specialist psychological therapy (not just counselling), are you able to get them this treatment within two months?

Usually – 6% Sometimes – 16% Rarely – 78%

Source: RCGP