Talking therapies to be expanded as part of government mental health recovery plan

Updated: Aug 23

Mental health services are to receive extensive investment to help recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including funds to increase access to talking therapies.

Newly published details of the government's Mental Health Recovery Action Plan include various funding schemes aimed at speeding up the recovery of mental health services, as well as preparing them for high levels of use in the coming months

In particular, the plan is aimed towards helping those most affected by the pandemic, including frontline workers, young adults and people with severe mental illness (SMI).

Included in the plan is a £38 million funding package to expand NHS talking therapies delivered via the Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) programme.

Talking therapies are commonly prescribed for people showing symptoms of common mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and stress disorders, and use techniques that try to change the way a person thinks or behaves.

In 2019/20, data from the Nuffield Trust shows that over 1.5 million people were referred to IAPT services – an 89% increase in referrals since 2011/12.

The planned expansion will help an estimated 1.6 million additional people access the service in 2021/22.

Further funding packages detailed in the plan include:

  • £15 million for expand mental health services across the UK, particularly in the most deprived local authority areas in England – eligible local authorities will receive around £500,000 each to fund improvements

  • £13 million to develop tailored mental health services for young adults aged 18 to 25

  • £14 million to improve physical health support for people living with SMI, including schemes aimed at encouraging people with SMI to have regular physical checks

  • £17 million to help tackle the backlog of dementia diagnosis appointments that has developed during the pandemic

  • £2.5 million to pilot new support services for children who have experienced complex trauma

  • £2.5 million to fund a pilot programme aimed at supporting offenders with significant mental health needs

  • £31 million to support learning disability and autism services, including to address a backlog of diagnostic appointments

  • £3 million to begin preparations for implementing the Mental Health Act Reform

  • £5 million to support suicide prevention services

"I am acutely aware of the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health and wellbeing of many," said Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Nadine Dorries. "The public has shown great resilience during these challenging times, but some groups including young people and those with severe mental illness have been impacted more than others.

"This funding will support these groups, both in initiatives specifically designed in the wake of the pandemic, and by enabling us to bring forward our NHS Long Term Plan commitments."

Read more: Extra funds for NHS staff as report calls for time to 'rest and recover'

Support for people living with SMI will also receive investment as part of a £58 million funding package.

The money will help improve the transition between primary and secondary care, including training specialist staff for primary care settings, and improving existing community services to increase access to psychological therapies, employment support, and support for self-harm.

In addition, £30 million will go toward helping the NHS adopt digital technologies to aid their staff in provide services from home, while a further £10 million will be invested in mental health support for frontline workers.

The plan also states that £111 million will be used to recruit and train mental health staff to improve future services.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, supported the government's plans in a statement released by the charity:

“As we continue to deal with the effects of the pandemic and the economic recession, the true scale of the nation’s mental health is only beginning to emerge. It could be many months or even years before we fully recognise the pandemic’s toll on our collective wellbeing.

"That’s why we welcome the UK Government’s recovery plan, which will need to see departments working more closely than ever to deliver on its promises given the multiple social challenges we face."

Farmer also insisted on the need to increase support for communities particularly affected by the pandemic, including people who may not be able to work because of a mental illness.

“At the moment, we’re seeing a widening of existing inequalities particularly for those in insecure employment and people from racialised communities, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

"Nobody should be pushed into poverty at this time, especially those whose mental health prevents them earning enough to support themselves financially. That’s why we need to see the UK Government urgently go further in some areas including maintaining a £20 uplift to Universal Credit indefinitely and extending this uplift to those needing support from older disability benefits, such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).”

To read the full Mental Health Recovery Action plan, click here.

Written by Marco Ricci

Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health