Talking therapies offer an effective, low cost form of treatment that can help address pain and distress before these become acute, thereby ensuring that fewer people end up needing crisis care and statutory mental health services. Importantly they also prevent the medicalisation of emotional distress, something that is critically important in a society that has one of the world’s highest prescription rates for anti-depressants.
In Northern Ireland, a society coming out of conflict, with rates of mental ill health that are at least 25% higher than in England, the need for talking therapies is great. The Covid crisis has increased exponentially the need for such support, with GPs estimating that the numbers of people presenting with mental health issues has at least doubled since March 2020.
Primary Care Talking Therapies were established in 2015 by the Health and Social Care Board through its five Local Commissioning Groups in the Trusts. Their aim is to co-ordinate emotional well-being and mental health care by providing an all-inclusive approach from a variety of partners offering a wide range of services, including counselling, CBT and group therapy1.
Yet inexplicably, figures obtained by PPR via Freedom of Information reveal that from April 2019 to March 2020 four of the five Health and Social Care Trusts handed back funding allocated to them for Primary Care Talking Therapies.
The data below was provided by each of the five Trusts and relates to the time period of 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020.
The scale of the underspend of counselling budgets varied across Trusts, from £6,608 in the South Eastern to £132,281 in the Western Trust. The only Trust with an overspend was the Northern Trust, with an overspend of £20,665.
At the same time as money was being handed back, people waited many weeks, often months, for an initial counselling appointment and were only offered a standard 6 sessions.