NHS ‘needs thousands more staff to meet cost of living crisis demands’

The poll found 25 to 34 years old were most likely to say the cost of the living crisis was impacting their mental health
The poll found 25 to 34 years old were most likely to say the cost of the living crisis was impacting their mental health

NHS therapy services won’t be able to manage increased demand driven by the cost of a living crisis as they are already thousands of therapists short, The Independent has been told.

NHS counselling services in England are not meeting therapy access targets due to a shortfall of 2,000 workers, according to sources.

The findings come as a poll by the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and YouGov, shared with The Independent, found that almost one in two adults felt the cost of living crisis was affecting their mental health.

According to the survey of more than 2,000 adults, 25 to 34 years old were most likely to say the cost of the living crisis was impacting their mental health.

Adam Jones, policy and public affairs manager for the UKCP, said “I think what we’re concerned about is the fact that already, there is a record level of demand for mental health services. We also know there are record rates of prescription for antidepressant medication as well. We’re concerned the capacity currently is already falling short.

“So with the rising demand going forward, we’re concerned that services are going to be stretched, waiting time is going to go up, average number of therapy sessions received is going to go down

He warned that although the NHS is focussed on training new therapists, there was already an existing workforce of psychotherapists and counsellors who don’t work in the NHS.

“We’d like to see more targeted recruitment of psychotherapists and counsellors who are already trained, and so that most would only require a short adaptive training to be able to work in an NHS context.”

Mr Jones warned there was a risk of a “two-tier” mental health system developing with people from higher income households able to pay privately.

He said: “In the current context, the idea of paying for therapy privately, is completely beyond the reach of many, many people and, that does create a two-tier system. There's also other lifestyle factors that people from higher income backgrounds benefit from in terms of that mental health.”

Regarding the needs of children, Mr Jones said therapists had reported concerns that there “doesn't seem to be a plan in place that can meet the severity of need, that exists now and is likely to worsen in children in the coming months”.

The latest data for NHS talking therapy services (IAPT), which are offered to people with low to moderate depression, showed that in 2021-22, 1.8 million people were referred for treatment but only 1.2 million started it.

NHS plans published in 2019 aimed to have 2,940 new IAPT therapists by 2023/23, however, The Independent understands that services are around 2,000 therapists short of what they need, as of this year.

Internal concerns have been raised within the NHS that IAPT services are falling short of targets by 35 per cent, which is the equivalent of 40,000 people missing out on care a month, one source explained.

The UKCP poll found that 29 per cent of people said they would need to cut down on nutritious food, 33 per cent said they would have less to spend on their physical health and 28 per cent said they’d be unable to support their mental health because of the rising cost of living.

Professor Sarah Niblock, chief executive of UKCP, warned: “Cost of living is not isolated to the affordability of heating or eating well, it has a direct interaction with our anxiety and our children’s anxiety. As a nation already feeling the mental health impact of the covid pandemic, this next wave of fear and reduced financial support is exacerbating the mental health crisis.

“UKCP works to raise awareness of the importance therapy can play in supporting the nation’s mental health, now more important than ever, as we see the mental health crisis reaching crunch point.”

According to the poll, people in higher-income households reported being more able to support their physical and mental health.

When asked about the mention, 22 per cent of people already said they were taking medication for their mental health more than once a week.

Dr Syed Azmatullah, from UKCP, said: “As a psychotherapist, it concerns me that almost half the nation is feeling the squeeze of the cost-of-living crisis, not just on their wallets but also on their mental wellbeing.

“These figures begin to show the extent and long-term impact of the cost-of-living crisis on the nation. Even if the crisis ended tomorrow, the long-term impact is going to be far-reaching.  The crisis is affecting people from all backgrounds, and all ages – although 25-34 year-olds are feeling the strain on their mental wellbeing more than any other age group – with two in three feeling their mental health is affected by the cost of living crisis.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS remains committed to increasing support through its world-leading talking therapy services, and in August more than 145,000 people were referred for help, up 5 per cent on the same period last year following a campaign urging people to self-refer if they need support.

“In line with the Long Term Plan the NHS is also increasing the number of trainee places for new entrants to the workforce, so if you are interested in pursuing a rewarding and interesting career helping patients from all walks of life, get in touch and find out more about joining our world-leading talking therapy service.”