Influencing across the Four Nations

This is the first of a series of blogs we’re publishing to share further insight into the important work being undertaken by our Policy team to help champion the counselling and psychotherapy profession with policy makers, decision makers and commissioners. Steve Mulligan, our Four Nations Lead, talks through dedicated work he’s undertaking across Northern Ireland (NI), Scotland, Wales and in England’s devolved health system.  

It’s been a busy few months engaging our members and accredited services in work across all nations to secure opportunities for counsellors and psychotherapists. As always, it’s a real privilege - and it’s important that we undertake this work in collaboration with BACP members, ensuring we make a credible case rooted in local and national experience.  

Northern Ireland (NI) 

In February, I was delighted to see the restoration of the political institutions in Northern Ireland after a two-year gap. This led to a hugely challenging time for many therapists and services due to the budget cuts imposed by Westminster already amid the cost-of-living crisis. We’ve have been reaching out for meetings with the new Ministers, to press for commitments to invest in counselling across all settings, full funding of the Mental Health Strategy and to highlight concerns with funding for third sector providers.  

A big focus during the past 12 months has been to push for a commitment from all NI party leaders to restore primary school counselling and to ensure long-term funding for counselling in secondary schools. Since last March, we’ve have led a coalition of professional bodies and providers to join forces to press for change. In November, we published a joint report setting out the positive impact of the interventions in schools, which has been shared with political leaders and key influencers. So far, the coalition had held very supportive discussions with Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill, the NI Children’s Commissioner, and Deputy Permanent Secretary from the Department of Education, and the Department’s new Director of Inclusion. We’ve engaged with education spokespersons from Sinn Fein, the Alliance and SDLP. We also met with the new Chair of the Education Select Committee, Nick Mathison MLA, who asked us to provide written questions for their evidence session with the new Education Minister, Paul Givan MSP. On 23 April, members of our coalition presented compelling evidence to the Education Committee which was very well received by Committee Members.  

We’re aiming to grow opportunities in the health sector in Northern Ireland. Last month, I joined the Chair of BACP’s Healthcare Divisional Executive, Rachel Johnson, to meet with representatives of two GP federations in Northern Ireland who are keen to incorporate counselling in GP settings. Together with the Northern Ireland Counselling Forum we’re are meeting Department of Health officials to call for greater recognition of the profession in the implementation of the Mental Health Strategy.  


In Scotland, as a member of the Scottish Government’s Student Mental Health and Well Being Working Group, I’ve have been pushing for the restoration of Government funding for student counselling, which BACP helped to secure in 2017 alongside NUS Scotland. The current programme was initially extended via a one-year transition fund following pressure by BACP and key partners across Highter Education and Further Education last year. This quarter I’ve continued to raise concerns with opposition parties, including Labour’s Shadow Mental Health Minister, Paul Sweeney MLA, who has raised several Parliamentary Questions on our behalf.  

Another big focus in Scotland is to grow opportunities for our members to work in health settings. We commissioned a study to look at how we can best navigate the complex health structures in Scotland, which concludes this month and will shape our engagement over the coming year: as a result of this work, we have been invited to sit on a new Psychological Therapies Care and Practice Psychology Forum, which is being established later this year. This is a new group, which will regularly meet with Scottish Government officials to shape delivery of psychological care and practice across Scotland. It’s a fantastic opportunity to ensure our members are being appropriately recognised. 


In Wales, we’ve strengthened our visibility with NHS Healthcare Education & Improvement Wales (HEIW) who are leading on Mental Health reform for the Welsh Government. As a result, BACP has been asked to sit on a new national Mental Health advisory board, to be established later this year. This will comprise relevant professional bodies and representatives from NHS Wales and local health boards.  

Another critical opportunity to advocate for opportunities for our members in Wales is the consultation on the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy. At its heart is a new commitment to provide ‘a connected system of support across health, social care, third sector and wider, where people can access the right service, at the right time, and in the right place’. In our recent BACP newsletter we asked our members in Wales to engage in the consultation, which closes on 21 June, as well as sharing thoughts on what they would like us to include in BACP’s submission. It’s important that the voice of counselling is heard by Welsh Government as they finalise this 10-year strategy.  


We’ve also been active on the devolved healthcare agenda in England. In December, our new Director of Professional Standards, Policy and Research Lisa Morrison Coulthard and I met with Andy Burnham (Mayor of GM) and Paul Dennett (Deputy Mayor of GM), where we agreed to collaborate with them on helping to develop a new Living Well early intervention service for Greater Manchester. This aims to incorporate counselling and psychotherapy alongside other preventative mental health services. Over the past two months we’ve have been liaising with services in Greater Manchester to help inform our approach. We’re hoping to undertake an engagement event later this year, and ultimately hope it will provide a blueprint, which could be used to influence other ICSs to invest in accessible counselling services. 

With a General Election later this year, a big focus of the team’s work will be to continue to liaise with all the political parties to secure manifesto commitments for counselling and psychotherapy. In February, Luciana Berger, BACP Vice President (and Labour’s former Shadow Mental Health Minister) met with me and BACP’s CEO Dr Phil James to discuss the review she is leading on Labour’s Mental Health Policy. Later that month we convened an online roundtable of 40 handpicked specialists from across our membership and Divisional Executive committees to help inform the review. To inform our own written response, we also undertook a short online week-long consultation, which 1,400 members responded to. We’ve have received very positive feedback from Luciana on the event and our own submission.  

As we approach the election, we look forward to reaching out to members across the UK to engage you in other General Election campaign activities.