Labour will give patients the right to receive psychological therapies under the NHS constitution if elected, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham announced today (Thursday).
The move comes as Labour accused the Government of trying to hide the scale of cuts to mental health services by scrapping the annual review of mental health expenditure in the NHS.
Speaking at a mental health conference hosted by the University of Chester Centre for Psychological Therapies in Primary Care, Mr Burnham said despite progress in removing the stigma of mental health problems, the NHS still had much to do to achieve equality of care for mental and physical problems envisaged when it was first set up by Aneurin Bevan.
Burnham said the NHS constitution needed to be changed to empower patients to gain access to appropriate talking therapies, rather than ‘just pills’ as currently is their right through the inclusion of NICE approved technologies.
He said: ‘We need to empower people, individuals to get what they need. One of things we are saying is, could we strengthen the NHS – and give people the right to counselling or to talking therapy because currently the only right in this regard is a right to pills. There is a right to NICE-approved technologies but there isn’t a right to [psychological] support.’
Speaking to Pulse, Burnham said he was proud to have played a part in the Government’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, but admitted it was failing to deliver in some areas, with long waiting times.
He said: ‘Certainly we will carry on funding talking therapies – I think it’s the beginning of a journey not the end of it. It’s true there can be very wide variation in services, particularly waiting times.’
‘But I’m also thinking of a new vision for general practice of “whole-person” care.’
He added: ‘I’ve shadowed GPs lately and I’ve seen people come in who are very similar to some of the people who come into my surgery. They are often people for whom the “blockage” in their health is often to do with bereavements, relationships, housing, benefits. I’ve often been with GPs when they’ve prescribed antidepressants – and I’ve asked them, if you’d been able to refer them for bereavement counselling, would that have been better – and they say “absolutely”.’
‘I’d like to see NHS money spent prescribing social rather than medical interventions – wouldn’t that help to empower general practice.’