Influencing Government policy across the four nations is a critical aspect of the work BACP does, ensuring that counselling and psychotherapy are at the forefront of policy making and seen as a critical part of the solution in addressing health inequalities.
An increasingly important arena for us is the emerging devolved healthcare arena, which brings together health, social care, local government and VCSE partners to deliver an integrated approach to commissioning services to better serve the needs of local communities through Integrated Care Systems (ICSs).
These place-based partnerships were recently recognised as legal entities with statutory powers and responsibilities following the passage of the 2022 Health and Care Act. For BACP, ICSs present an important opportunity for counselling and psychotherapy to be integrated much more comprehensively into local health systems.
As part of this, I'd particularly like to see ICSs use their powers to develop complementary systems of mental health support which tackle the gaps that we've seen within other national Mental Health programmes, like NHS Talking Therapies. This could offer a much greater choice of appropriate therapies and could be informed by service users as well as bringing in the very best expertise from third sector providers, with longstanding experience of serving their communities and be much more culturally sensitive and accessible.
Through our work to influence this landscape, I'm pleased to represent BACP as an advisory commissioner on the influential Health Devolution Commission (HDC), chaired by Andy Burnham and Sir Norman Lamb. This is an independent cross-party and cross-sector body, established in 2020 and comprising of seven former Health Ministers as well as key leaders from health, local government and the voluntary and community sector.
A key focus of the commission’s work has been to shape the role of ICSs, including the legislation which gives them new statutory powers. Together, we briefed parliamentarians to secure some important wins during the passage of the 2022 Health and Care Act, including the need for greater focus on parity of esteem between physical and mental health in the duties of ICSs.
BACP and HDC have also more recently engaged with the Hewitt Review, an independent review of integrated care systems. This was led by former Labour Health Secretary Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, and was commissioned by the Prime Minister in November 2022.
The core recommendation of the review, which I fully endorse, is for a big shift in focus and resources towards healthcare prevention. I’m keen that recommendation is accepted by Government and opens the door to more funding for mental health early intervention services, including counselling and psychotherapy. Additionally, it calls for greater transparency about the support and spending for mental health, which we believe would help further reinforce the importance of parity of esteem between physical and mental health and ensure more resources are earmarked towards mental health early intervention services.
The Hewitt Review was published in early April and we're now waiting for the Government’s formal response to it. You can read the Health Devolution Commission’s response to the Hewitt Review here, which is endorsed by BACP.
Going forward, I'll continue to work with the Health Devolution Commission and key partners in the devolution agenda to ensure these important principles are adopted, as well as engaging with other partners and stakeholders to ensure greater recognition of the important contribution that the counselling profession can make in addressing health inequalities and supporting better mental health and wellbeing for all.