Mental health has enjoyed a high political profile for much of the past decade. Throughout that time there have been many promises proffered from all political parties; whether that be ambitions of achieving parity of esteem between mental and physical health, the introduction of waiting time targets for children and young people’s mental health services or increasing the numbers of adults able to access existing NHS psychological therapy services.
Despite all these promises, and an undoubted level of progress to one degree or another, the fact remains that whilst the numbers of people able to access psychological therapy services through the NHS has and continues to increase – the policies and ambitions of Governments have fallen short of delivering the mental health services the public deserve.
Which is why we’ve long campaigned for an expansion of choice for clients in the psychological therapies they can access, increasing the availability and accessibility of services so clients can access them in a way that meets their needs and a reduction in waiting times so that all clients begin psychological therapies within 28 days of referral.
Ultimately, we believe everyone in the UK should be able to access a full range of evidence-based psychological therapies free at the point of need.
Of course, it’s easy to call for sweeping improvements to a system but how can counselling and psychotherapy, and counsellors and psychotherapists, play a bigger role in delivering the change we need?
As our strap line says we know that counselling changes lives. Research quantifiably shows the positive impact counselling and psychotherapy can have on people’s mental health, but it’s not only the research showing this, people’s experiences and testimony backs this up.
We’re clear therefore, that whoever forms the next Government both needs to prioritise increasing funding for NHS mental health services, but for that funding to be meaningfully channelled towards expanding the paid mental health workforce to meet need and for that workforce to be recruited and embedded within the system around the principles of choice for clients.
It’s only then that the public will have access to the services they deserve, at the moment they need them.
Why do we believe these principles so important?
Research has repeatedly shown that where people are involved in co-decision making about their health then their outcomes are better. In psychological therapies services this means offering a range of interventions for clients to access and for clients to be given an informed choice of what they feel works best for them – moving away from a one-size fits all model of mental health.
This clearly requires an expansion of the availability of many modalities, including counselling and psychotherapy, but it also means that we have to continue to recognise the evidence base for the broad spectrum of interventions practised.
Whilst official figures show an increasing number of people are accessing psychological therapies through the NHS and with increasing public recognition of mental health problems as well as an increasing expectation that they have a right to receive help for these problems, these numbers are very likely to continue increasing.
However, at present access rates are low compared to the total number of people who could benefit from psychological therapies.
For example, there has been an ambition in England to increase the number of people with common mental health conditions accessing psychological therapies from 15% in 2016 to 25% by 2021 – yes an increase, but what about the remaining 75% of people who could benefit from these services?
It’s therefore imperative that whoever forms the next Government, moves away from small incremental increases in access targets and instead sets out upon an ambitious plan to ensure everyone who could benefit from psychological therapies can access them should they wish to.
We currently have a post-code lottery in the length of time it takes people to begin therapy once referred. For example, both data from England’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme itself as well as from a recent BBC investigation shows that whilst the shortest waits are only a few days, the longest are several months.
It is unacceptable that people are waiting so long to access services and this should be addressed immediately. Which is why we’ve called on the next Government to ensure that all people accessing psychological therapies begin therapy within 28 days of referral, as well as being offered and informed choice of evidence-based interventions to meet their needs.
Whatever the outcome of the election on the 12 December, it is along these principles that we will continue to seek to work both with the NHS and Government in a constructive and, where required, critical manner to achieve change and increase access to counselling and psychotherapy.
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