Government takes first step on plan for health service to employ thousands more counsellors and therapists

The government today took its first step on realising a plan for the health service to employ thousands more counsellors and therapists offering people with depression an alternative to medication.

Two pilot cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) centres are to be set up in Doncaster, Yorkshire, and Newham, London, the Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt announced today.

The centres will have £3.7m over two years. If they prove to be effective, similar therapy centres will be rolled out to the rest of the country.

However, the British Psychological Society, which represents clinical psychologists who use CBT, said today that funding for the training in England and Wales of clinical psychologists has been slashed by 20 per cent.

Ray Miller, the society’s president, said: “It is the first cut in training places in clinical psychology training in 20 years….The Department of Health appears to be cutting back on the very people who should be available to support its stated policy aims.

“Clearly these reductions in training numbers are driven by finance rather than logic, and can only be seen as a failure of joined-up thinking”.

Nevertheless, the government says it is committed to creating more “talking therapies” – particularly cognitive behavioural therapy – for people with mild to moderate depression.

The government is eager to slash incapacity benefit payments by finding ways for the 1.3 million people with a mental health problem who claim such benefits to return to work. And, in 2004 the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) advised that people with mild to moderate depression or anxiety can benefit more from counseling of psychotherapy than medication.

In September last year government adviser Lord Richard Layard, a health economist, said ministers were “devoted to the idea” of the NHS employing up to 10,000 extra therapists in 250 new treatment centres to tackle depression and anxiety.

Speaking today at a National Mental Health Partnership Conference, Ms Hewitt said that “too many people are prescribed medication as a quick fix solution.”

“I hope that these pilot sites will provide real, tangible evidence of the effectiveness of investing in talking therapies,” she said.

“They will help break the cycle of deprivation, where poor health leads to unemployment and wasted lives as people fail to reach their full potential.”

Cliff Prior, chief executive of the charity Rethink, hailed the announcement as the “possible beginning of a dramatic advance in mental health.”

The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health’s chief executive Angela Greatley said: “Waiting times for psychological therapies are long, despite the mass of evidence about their benefits for many people.

“Today’s announcement should be the beginning of a new approach that ensures timely access to effective treatment and practical support, with real choices and care close to home.”

But shadow health minister Tim Loughton said: “With only 10% of people suffering from depression receiving any kind of psychological therapy it is simply not good enough for the government to say they will monitor the success of these two centres.

“Mental illness is a debilitating disease and suffers should not be expected to wait a further two years for treatment.”

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