On Monday, in a speech Lib Dem Care Services Minister Paul Burstow announced plans to make psychological therapies available to more people suffering mental health problems via the NHS. This is very welcome news indeed - particularly when we know that one in six people are likely to suffer from a mental illness and an estimated one in four people out of work claiming incapacity benefit are experiencing mental health problems. In his speech, Paul Burstow referred to his recent visit to an innovative "Talking Therapies" service at Shinfield Health Centre, within our local PCT area, Berkshire West, earlier this year .
Mr Burstow said:
"I had the pleasure of meeting some of your professional colleagues at a centre in Reading a few months ago.
I spoke to the service users, learnt about how these therapies had changed their lives, transformed their confidence, their outlook, their aspirations for the future.
There was a time when diagnosis of a mental health problem was the end as far as work goes. IAPT is changing that. Everyone I met there had had their lives turned round by the services they received.
One lady had suffered a serious physical illness and had to leave her job. Going in and out of hospital, and then being stuck at home, she became depressed and withdrawn.
And so when she’d recovered her physical health, she was paralysed with fear and anxiety and couldn’t return to work.
Therapy made all the difference. She regained her confidence, she eased herself back to work, she got back to her normal self.'
We are very lucky in Reading to have such an innovative service so close by. And the results achieved for patients at the Shinfield Health Centre speak for themselves. The Berkshire West plan was by March 2011 to get 106 people off benefits and back to work (either returning from sickness or into new employment). The service has surpassed this plan and, to date, has enabled 140 to move off sick pay and benefits since January 2009. Leaving aside the benefits to them financially the benefits to their quality of life is hard to quantify but even more important.
The service has also exceeded planned numbers of people entering therapy and puts Berkshire West Talking Therapies among the top national IAPT services.
Last December, as the then Chair of the Reading's Health Scrutiny Panel I requested a report on this innovative programme being carried out in our area. The Panel noted that, as well as the obvious benefits to patients’ health and wellbeing, the service could also have benefits to the economy if it kept people in work. We recommended that the programme (which was being piloted by the then Labour government) be continued and extended.
I'm delighted that nationally the services being carried out by health professionals in the Reading area are being recognised and am hopeful they will be extended to enable more local people to benefit from them.
So what will the government do now to ensure this excellent work continues and more people benefit? Back to Paul Burstow's speech:
"First, we need to complete the existing training programme.
Two-thirds of the country already covered.
By the end of this financial year, 3,700 newly trained staff will be on board.
We will then go much further.
The funding we’re releasing from the Spending Review will mean that by 2015, every patient in the country should be able to get timely access to proven psychological therapies.
And, wherever possible, they should have real choice of approved therapies.
At the moment, IAPT is a little too much like Henry Ford’s business philosophy … you can have any therapy as long as it’s CBT.
To be fair, it wasn’t a bad model to get us on the road. But we do need to diversify. To open the door for other, equally effective therapies to help people with different needs.
So we’ll invest the money and work with the local NHS to upskill staff across four other NICE-approved therapies:-
- In counselling
- interpersonal therapy
- brief dynamic therapy; and
- couples therapy
Something the last government promised 12 months ago. We’ll actually deliver it."
You can read Paul Burstow's excellent speech in full here.
The government's strategy on mental health is expected in coming weeks. I am very encouraged by other public comments Paul Burstow has made on this issue so far which suggests that treating poor mental health will finally be seen as important as tackling other forms of ill-health.
As I blogged in April I am fully commited to doing everything I can to campaign for more support for people with mental health problems in Reading. This was a key plank of the Lib Dem general election manifesto in 2010 and included in the Coalition Agreement signed by Lib Dems and Conservatives.
I am very pleased to see the Coalition Government sticking to promises it has made in this regard and putting it's money where it's mouth is in relation to mental health.