Skip navigation

Politicians vie to support access to talking therapies on NHS

Politicians vie to support access to talking therapies on NHS

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 18 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h896 

by Penny Gray

  1. London

Political big hitters vied to outbid each other to support expansion of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme at the eighth annual New Savoy Conference: Psychological Therapies in the NHS, held in London last week.

The minister for care and support, Norman Lamb, opened a discussion on mental health by stating, “There is discrimination in the NHS against mental health,” and he said that we must hold whoever is in power to account for implementing the vision for mental health that had been set out in the Five Year Forward View for the NHS in England.1 The IAPT programme was an extraordinary scheme that was world leading, Lamb said. However, there was an urgent need for joined-up working between the programme and JobCentre Plus centres, schools, and prisons.

Labour’s shadow minister for public health, Luciana Berger, said, “I’m pleased that the government has continued to expand IAPT.” Listing areas for improvement, she highlighted the lack of choice of therapy and inadequate access, as indicated by the fact that the GPs’ prescribing of antidepressants was increasing, something that the increase in access to psychological therapies was meant to avoid.

“We’ve looked very closely at the standards, and the next Labour government would aim for 80% of patients [to be] referred into treatment within 28 days—with the same standard for CAMHS [child and adolescent mental health services],” said Berger, outbidding the coalition’s promise to have 75% of patients referred within six weeks.2 “Is that just for CBT [cognitive behaviour therapy]?” asked the BBC’s home editor, Mark Easton. This question prompted all three panellists, Berger, the Liberal Democrat Lamb, and James Morris for the Conservatives, to commit to equal access to all of the programme’s therapies approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

IAPT services will be geared up to report waiting times by type of therapy later this year, said David Clark, the programme’s national clinical adviser. This means that GPs will be able to offer a choice of therapy to their patients if the local programme can’t meet its waiting times. He said it would be possible to do that by optimising the use of digital technology. A new profiling tool launched at the conference, called IAPT fingertips,3 will provide an unprecedented level of public transparency, he claimed. The fingertips tool will allow commissioners, practitioners, and members of the public to drill into the data to see how their local programme was performing.

Real challenges lay ahead, not least in funding, the conference was told. Currently just 13% of health spending was allocated to mental health, half that needed to deal with the burden of disease, said Jeremy Clarke, the conference chair. Within mental health budgets only 6% goes to psychological therapies.

Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, sounded a note of caution. “How, in these times of austerity, are we going to justify a disproportionate investment in mental health?” he asked. “I believe there is a strong case for investment that produces payoffs for other public services, but I’m looking to you to tell us how,” he said.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h896


  1. NHS England. The NHS five year forward view.
  2. NHS England. Guidance to support the introduction of access and waiting time standards for mental health services in 2015-16.
  3. Public Health England. Mental health dementia and neurology.

PowerPoint presentations from the Psychological Therapies in the NHS conference are available to download at

Forthcoming events of interest:

Positive and Proactive Care Meeting the New National Guidance on Reducing Seclusion
Tuesday 10 March 2015 
Hallam Conference Centre, London

Measuring and Monitoring Quality in Mental Health
Monday 23 March 2015 
ICO Conference Centre, London

Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards: Ensuring Compliance in Practice
Wednesday 25 March 2015 
ICO Conference Centre, London

Implementing the national objective to end Prone/Face Down Restraint: Examining Restraint Positions in Practice
Tuesday 21 April 2015 
ICO Conference Centre, London

Improving Mental Health Crisis Care
Thursday 30 April 2015 
Hallam Conference Centre, London

Information Governance in Mental Health: Implementing Caldicott2 & the New Code of Practice on Confidential Information
Monday 11 May 2015 
Hallam Conference Centre, London

Masterclass: Mental Health Pathways
Monday 11 May 2015 
Hallam Conference Centre, London

Stronger Code: Better Care Implementing the Changes to the Mental Health Act Code of Practice
Tuesday 12 May 2015 
Hallam Conference Centre, London

Masterclass: The Mental Capacity Act and Advance Decisions
Wednesday 13 May 2015 
Cavendish Conference Centre, London

Improving Physical Health for People with Mental Health Conditions
Wednesday 20 May 2015 
Colmore Gate Conference Centre, Birmingham

Psychosis & Schizophrenia in Adults
Monday 8 June 2015 
Hallam Conference Centre, London


23 February 2015


    Partner Organisations

    The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation TrustInPracticeClinical Audit Support CentrePlayoutJust For Nurses
    GGI (Good Governance Institute) accredited conferences CPD Member ASGBI (Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland) professional partner BADS (British Association of Day Surgery) accredited conferences