Improving access to online psychological therapies during the pandemic

Recent figures show the prescription of antidepressants is at its highest ever level, with long waits for talking therapies and GPs reporting an increase in patients presenting with mental health concerns as they struggle with the impact of the pandemic. There is a challenge for the NHS to deliver effective mental health treatment quickly before people’s conditions become entrenched beyond the pandemic.

Currently, the majority of talking therapy sessions are taking place online due to coronavirus restrictions‚’ but in some parts of the country, there is still an up to six month wait just to access an online CBT programme for mild to moderate depression and anxiety as part of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service. These programmes are automated, and not conducted by a therapist. For those who can afford to, they can buy these programmes online (like Beating the Blues or SilverCloud, both of which are approved for use by the NHS and clinically proven to reduce levels of anxiety and depression) but many cannot afford to do so during an economically challenging time so are stuck on waiting lists for access whilst on antidepressants.

It does not make sense for patients to be referred by their GP to an IAPT service, only for them to wait months for access to an automated, online programme, whilst their condition could worsen in the meantime. Instead, GP surgeries across the country should be able to instantly refer patients struggling with mild or moderate anxiety and depression to these programmes by giving them a referral code which they can use to sign up to the programmes for free. If needed, they can have regular check-in appointments with their GP whilst completing the programme.

This would not only improve access to vital psychological therapies, but could long-term cut waiting lists.




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