Mental health patients suffer as NHS psychotherapy services deteriorate

BPC has today launched a report on the deteriorating state of NHS psychotherapy services across the UK. The report, jointly commissioned with the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), is based on a survey of over 2,000 psychotherapists working across the NHS, the third sector and in private practice.

Despite recent Government commitments on waiting times and promises of additional investment in some therapy services, the report shows that access to the long-term psychotherapy required by many mental health patients is getting worse not better.

It shows that in the NHS and third sector:

•    57% of practitioners said client waiting times have increased over the last year
•    52% report fewer psychotherapy services being commissioned in the last year
•    77% report an increase in the number of complex cases they are expected to deal with.

The strain on publicly funded therapy services means that the private psychotherapy sector is increasingly ‘picking up the pieces’ with individuals who have been failed by the NHS. The vast majority of private therapists (94%) report they regularly see clients who feel let down by the NHS:

•    Clients waiting times for NHS therapy are too long (56%)
•    Clients are unable to get the type of help they need on the NHS (58%)
•    Therapy offered by the NHS is too short for their needs (63%)

The survey shows that highly trained and experienced therapists, despite being committed to working with those in need, are increasingly abandoning NHS work in favour of private practice. In addition to the stresses of increasingly unmanageable client caseloads, 72% of therapists were discouraged from working in the NHS because of a lack of understanding of and recognition for psychotherapy as a profession and the contribution that longer term approaches can bring to the NHS.

Julian Lousada, chair of BPC, said:

“This continuing deterioration of NHS psychotherapy provision is unacceptable.  Psychological therapies for people experiencing enduring problems, co-morbid conditions, and medically unexplained symptoms all require investment.

“Mental distress is increasingly represented as a brief interruption of everyday life.  For some this is the case, but for many the distress is enduring and has a huge impact on those they encounter and those who care for them.

“People experiencing these conditions need stable and supported staff who can contain and respond to the turmoil of their lives.  The loss of experienced consultant staff would not be tolerated in any other area of NHS activity and, without urgent action, we are in real danger of losing the range of interventions that a comprehensive mental health service requires.”

Janet Weisz, chair of UKCP, said:

“People who are experiencing psychological distress and would benefit from therapy are being let down by the patchy and increasingly limited provision of therapy services in the UK.

“This survey also shows a worrying development for the psychotherapy profession in the UK. Highly trained and experienced therapists are leaving the NHS for private practice because services are being closed and they feel that longer-term work with clients is no longer valued. While the NHS has successfully introduced short term therapies which work with many mental health conditions, the needs of clients requiring deeper and longer term psychotherapy are increasingly being ignored. In consequence, morale among our NHS members is falling and access to services is deteriorating.

“The therapists whose views are represented by this survey are a significant asset to our public health service. The loss to the NHS of their skills, commitment and dedication is a tragedy.”

Report on the Public Provision of Psychotherapy

- (4 MB PDF)


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