Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced yesterday that the government is planning a significant cash injection to fund better use of psychological therapies on the National Health Service.

By 2010/11, the government has promised that the NHS will spend more than £170 million on psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, for the treatment of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Mental health problems are the largest single cause of disability and illness in England, accounting for 40% of all disability (physical and mental), nearly 40% of people on Incapacity Benefit, and a third of all GPs' time, the government notes.

To this end, it has set up the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme which, backed by this substantial investment, it hope will: help treat 900,000 more patients for depression and anxiety, curing an estimated 450,000 of these (as per National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines); cut the number of mental health patients claiming sick pay and benefits by 25,000; provide 3,600 more newly-trained psychological therapists giving “evidence-based” treatment; and providing all GP practices with access to such therapies as the programme rolls out.

Transformation of services

The news was received warmly by many sides of the industry: “This is great news and just what we’ve all been waiting for,” commented Lord Richard Layard, co-author of the London School of Economics depression report. “Mental health is the biggest social problem in the country. This new service will bring relief from misery to millions of people,” he explained.

And Health Minister Ivan Lewis added: “This major expansion of psychological therapies represents a historic transformation of mental health services in our country. These new services will ensure people have the support to cope with anxiety and depression while minimising the stigma associated with using mental health services.”