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GP survey calls key mental health target into doubt

The government has accepted the recommendations set out in a report by the Mental Health Taskforce, including a large expansion of psychological therapy. However, a survey of GPs identifies barriers to treatment which call this target into doubt.

Experts in mental health recently published a report setting out a five year plan to improve mental health services in England. Access to psychological therapies was identified as a key area for improvement. The report’s proposal, subsequently accepted by the government, was to increase access for people with anxiety and depression, from 15% to 25%, by 2020. This equates to an additional 600,000 people accessing mental health treatment.

However, a recent survey found that while GPs support increased access targets for psychological therapies, without embracing new models of care and breaking down the barriers to entering treatment, targets are unlikely to be met.

66% of GPs saw waiting times for psychological therapies as being the biggest barrier to treating common mental health problems. The Mental Health Taskforce report testifies to this, stating that waiting times range from six to 124 days in 2014/15, depending on location.

Resolving these issues using conventional face-to-face therapy is likely to be challenging and difficult to afford, even with increased budgets, which are set to become £1B for mental health services by 2020.

The Mental Health Taskforce report also recognises the pivotal role of digital platforms in driving major changes to mental health services over the next five years. It recommends that offering new digital models of care will enable more people to receive effective therapy, provide greater accessibility and choice whilst reducing waiting times. The report calls for effective digital services to be integrated on the NHS Choices website during 2016.

Barnaby Perks, Chief Executive of Ieso Digital Health, a growing provider of online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), commented:

“We are supportive of the increased access target for psychological therapies, and evidence-based online access can play a vital role in bringing this about. We have demonstrated that live one-to-one CBT delivered over the internet is as good as face-to-face therapy, but with the added benefits of removing the common barriers to entry that patients currently face. However, the benefits of digital technology, including the potential for self-referral, will be dependent on NHS England recognising the full value of digital platforms, and adopting a new approach to contracting at a regional, or ideally, national level. Only when the availability of digital services becomes nationwide, will NHS England be able to meet these IAPT targets.”

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