‘Recession puts talking therapies scheme at risk’

Mental health leaders have raised concerns that the government’s talking therapies programme could be cut after 2011 despite the recession fuelling rising levels of depression and anxiety – the disorders the programme is designed to treat.

They fear that the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme’s focus on getting people back into work could leave it vulnerable to cuts at a time of increasing levels of redundancy.

The concerns were raised in a report today by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network and the London School of Economics, based on a meeting they convened in September on mental health and the economic downturn.

Recession to fuel mental health disorders

It said the slowdown was likely to see an increase in common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, which the IAPT scheme is designed to tackle through early intervention.

The Department of Health is funding the programme from 2008-11, with annual expenditure reaching £173m a year in 2010-11.

The report said that though IAPT could save significant amounts of money “many” people at the September meeting were concerned about its future funding.

Balance must be struck

However, the paper also raised concerns that if IAPT funding were preserved then pressures could fall upon secondary care services for more serious mental illnesses, and called for a middle ground to be struck.

The paper, which is being launched at the Mental Health Network’s annual conference today, highlighted a number of funding pressures the sector could face and suggested solutions to temper budget cuts.

It said the current system for GPs referring patients into the mental health system was “undeniably complex” and potentially duplicated costs. Efficiencies could be made by enabling family doctors to refer people to a single point of access, where a team would carry out assessments and direct the patient to the appropriate service, it added.

Acute trusts ‘should invest in mental healthcare’

Acute NHS trusts could also make savings by providing mental health services in general hospitals, reducing levels of readmission and ensuring people can be discharged earlier. Evidence shows that one-quarter of patients admitted to general hospitals have a mental health problem.

The report also called for more investment in training for mental health commissioners to aid them in making difficult decisions.

In another report launched at today’s conference, the Mental Health Network and the Ambulance Service Network, which represents NHS ambulance services, warned that too many people with mental health problems were ending up in A&E unnecessarily.

It called for better training for paramedics on mental health issues.

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