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A renewed commitment from the Government to Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) will hopefully create further job opportunities for therapists, counsellors and psychotherapists across the UK.

The 2015-16 NHS Mandate features a clear commitment to 'extending and ensuring more open access to the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme'. With the recent election there seems to have been some loss of impetus. However, in his final pre-election budget, Chancellor George Osborne committed £118 million to the Children's and Young People's IAPT programme by 2018-19. He also announced that IAPT therapists would be located in 350 job centres across the country, a process that began this summer.

When it was launched in 2008, IAPT was seen as a major step forward for mental healthcare and organisations such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists welcomed the increased focus on psychological therapies. For some years, frontline professionals ranging from psychiatrists to mental health nurses had been pointing to the potential benefits of talking therapies. Early intervention can prevent people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety being unable to work and becoming a burden on the state, so the financial case was strong too. It was estimated that there could be a net saving to the taxpayer of £300 million per year. Just improving access to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) for patients with 'high need' psychosis could save the NHS anything up to £160 million per year.

At the heart of the programme is a new evidence-based approach to treatment and a commitment to training a new workforce to deliver it. In the first three years alone, 900,000 more people were treated for depression and anxiety and the average waiting time for access to treatment was reduced from 18 months to a few weeks. By this year, IAPT expected to have trained around 6000 high and low intensity CBT workers.

Hitting the benchmark

The IAPT programme's target for the end of 2014-15 was to achieve timely access to treatment for 15% of those who could benefit, with a recovery rate of at least 50 per cent. Latest figures show that the 15% target was met, but that the recovery rate was only just over 45%. That being said, there was significant variation in the picture locally, with 20 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) achieving at least 60%. This seems to have been enough to convince the Government and health planners that the scheme should be continued, with a new target now set for 2016 that focuses on reducing waiting times from referral to treatment.

In another development that could help drive expansion of IAPT services and provide more jobs for therapists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists, a new Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) indicator means GPs could be incentivised to refer patients with anxiety and depression for talking therapies. "We obviously need more facility, " said Professor Danny Keenan, Chair of the QOF/CCG outcomes indicator advisory panel, "but this is what will drive an increase in facilities."

The Mental Health Taskforce is formulating its own mental healthcare-focused version of the Five Year Forward View and helping drive transformational models of primary care. In doing so, they will hopefully recognise the valuable role psychological therapists can play in cost-effectively treating a range of mental health problems.

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