POLITICS

General Election 2015 Parties Are Pledging To Expand Talking Therapy, Just Like They Did In 2010

24/04/2015 16:15 BST | Updated 24/04/2015 16:59 BST

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An incumbent political party's manifesto reads like a list of triumphs. The Lib Dems are pledging to build on their "record of delivery" by increasing access to "clinically and cost-effective talking therapies so hundreds of thousands more people can get this support". Their manifesto says 2.6 million people have received such support since 2010.

Their Conservative coalition partners also pledge this, saying they will "now ensure there are therapists in every part of the country providing treatment for those who need it".

The call to make talking therapy more readily available is not new - the three main parties all pledged to do it in 2010. It has, along with other aspects of mental health, shot up the agenda since the last election - but has progress in delivering it actually matched the interest.

The We Still Need To Talk Coalition - a group of mental health charities - published a survey of people trying to access talking therapy last September. It said: "Despite Government commitments to address unequal access to psychological therapies, evidence shows that current access rates and availability of psychological therapies among certain groups remain poor."

It found one in 10 people had waited more than a year after being referred for talking therapy for an assessment while half waited over three months. One in six people surveyed had attempted suicide while waiting.

These waiting times were an improvement on 2010 - when one in five had been waiting more than a year. Mental health charity Mind, which is part of the coalition that conducted the survey, has said the waiting time should no be more than 28 days, and even shorter if the need is particularly urgent.

"There has been welcome investment in increasing access to talking therapies, but that progress is now at risk," the briefing released with the survey said.

"The next five years are a crucial period to increase the number of people who are able to benefit from a range of evidence based talking therapies."

Commissioning much of mental health services now falls to local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) - established in the coalition's fundamental re-organisation of the NHS.

Differences in how much each group pays towards mental health has fuelled a disparity in talking therapy waiting times across the country, Rezina Hakim, Policy and Campaigns Officer at mental health charity Mind, said.

“Access times have improved in some areas but have got worse in other areas, it’s quite patchy… Part of the reason for the disparity is changes to the way in which mental health is funded… That’s one of the main drivers as to why there are so many different figures in waiting times nationally,” she told The Huffington Post UK.

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Dr Zoe Norris, a Yorkshire GP who asked politicians to "stop the rhetoric and platitudes" about mental health in a blog this week for HuffPost UK, said the waiting list in her area was more than a year for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or treatment under the government's Improving Access To Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.

"This effectively means, every time I see a patient with depression, PTSD, a history of abuse they need help with, I have nothing to offer them apart from medication and even then they will have to wait a year to see someone" she said.

"That means months of medication that is not the recommended first line treatment, and while it reduces their symptoms and distress, it doesn't help them work through the underlying problem and learn how best to move on."

She added: "Now there is finally some movement with new services being launched, cynically just in time for election campaigning. It's just not good enough."

Hakim said that NHS England committed from April 1 to the aim of getting 75% of people referred to the IAPT programme to begin treatment within six weeks and 95% to begin treatment within 18 weeks - by March 2016.

But she added it was too soon to tell whether this would be successful.

One of Mind's six commitments, which it wants the next government to take on, is to provide talking therapy that everyone can access within 28 days of referral, something that Hakim said, would require more funding for it.

"[Without extra funding] it would be very challenging for that to be met," she said.

She added it was "tricky" to say which party had the best pledges on this issue.

She said: "All the political parties have prioritised talking therapies, which we are really pleased to see. We'd be interested to see some particulars...We still need to see a lot more done."

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