Ministers risk raising false hope among mentally ill

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Ministers risk raising false hopes among thousands of mentally ill people by pledging universal access to talking therapies without the means to enforce this, says an ex-adviser sacked for speaking out over the issue.

Professor David Richards was removed on Friday from his role as a government adviser on talking therapies after slamming as “a lie” ministers’ pledge of £400m of “additional investment” for therapies from 2011-15 through last week’s mental health strategy.

In an interview with Community Care today, Richards said that talking therapies services were already being cut despite the allocation of dedicated funding worth £173m this year, with therapist posts being frozen and others being made on short-term contracts.

The extra £400m would have to be found from core budgets allocated to primary care trusts, and from 2013, to GP consortia, at a time when NHS spending is due to fall slightly in real terms and the service has to find £20bn in efficiencies from 2011-15.

Richards, an adviser to the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme since 2008, was sacked as a result of comments made to The Guardian in which he said he and other advisers were “very disturbed” that the £400m was not new money.

“What disappointed me most is that there was this very hopeful announcement that must have given hope to thousands of people struggling without support with depression and anxiety,” Richards told Community Care. “It would be a tragedy for them if this promise was not fulfilled.”

“We know that when money is put into commissioners’ baseline budgets [for specific services] it can leach out into other services,” said Richards, professor of mental health services research at Exeter University.

He also raised concerns about massive cuts to the Department of Health’s IAPT policy implementation team, reported by Community Care last week, adding: “It seems that the levers to ensure that the money gets spent where it was meant to be were being dismantled.”

Richards has been responsible for two key initiatives within the IAPT programme: the development of a workforce of psychological wellbeing practitioners to deliver low-intensity therapy, and of an information standard with which to measure outcomes.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Professor David Richards has done some great work for the psychological therapies programme but regrettably the way in which he made his comments about funding damaged confidence in the programme and was incompatible with his position as an adviser to it.

“This is new money. The NHS has already been notified of PCT allocations for 2011-12, which included additional funding for increasing access to talking therapies.”

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