Dr Nick Waggett and Sarb Bajwa join leaders representing 12 psychological professional groups and service users of psychological services to call for a new role of chief psychological professions officer
We may be heading into a general election and no doubt the future of the NHS will once again be a hot topic of debate. Many will rightly focus on the financial investment required to meet rising demand for services or on how to tackle intransigent workforce shortages.
What is likely to see less air time, but is no less critical, is how NHS services and the workforce are managed and led. In one crucial area, that of psychological healthcare, there has to date been no leadership at national level.
That is why we have joined with leaders representing 12 psychological professional groups and service users of psychological services to call for a new role of chief psychological professions officer.
Parity between mental and physical health
We live in a time when mental distress among children, young people and adults appears to be rising. Fortunately there has also been a sea change in attitudes to mental illness and a recognition that the status of mental health services as the “Cinderella” of the NHS must change.
The government has committed to parity of esteem between physical and mental health and began a significant expansion of services and the workforce in the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.
Working in multidisciplinary teams with colleagues from medicine, nursing and allied health professions, the 12 psychological professions in the NHS are central to the provision of effective and high-quality care.
Psychological healthcare has a strong evidence base, is cost effective and popular with the public – three times as many people with mental health problems would prefer a talking therapy to medication.
It is right, therefore, that the NHS long-term plan recognised the importance of rapidly and significantly increasing access to mental health services and set out a much-needed roadmap for improving access to quality psychological healthcare. But a plan is only as good as its delivery.
The psychological professions will need to work differently and the health and social care workforce as a whole will need to become more psychologically informed
If patients are to see the benefits of more person-centred, coordinated and integrated care, a significant expansion of the psychological professions workforce – by around 50 per cent over the next decade – will be needed. The psychological professions will need to work differently and the health and social care workforce as a whole will need to become more psychologically informed.
The 12 psychological professions, which include psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors and CBT therapists, as well as new roles like education mental health practitioners, work across all aspects of the health and social care system – from primary to secondary care, in physical and mental health, and with infants, children, young people, adults and older people.
We support and empower some of the most vulnerable people in society – mothers with postnatal depression and their babies, children and young people whose health is impacted by adverse childhood experiences, people of all ages living with serious mental illness. We work with some of the most hard to reach communities, helping to build resilience and improve mental wellbeing.
Achieving an unprecedented expansion and transformation in the workforce and in access to psychological healthcare will demand strategic leadership and vision at a national level.
The role of chief psychological professions officer will act as principal independent advisor to government regarding all aspects of psychological policy, education, research and practice and on matters relating to psychological wellbeing.
Creating an essential bridge between patients, staff, professional bodies and policy-makers, a chief officer will support delivery of the rapid expansion of the psychological professions set out in the NHS long-term plan and the increase in access to psychological therapies and interventions across mental and physical health services.
They will drive innovation and service improvement in psychologically-informed care, ensure a robust evidence-base to support therapies and support actions to improve wellbeing and resilience in communities and prevent mental ill health.
The role of chief psychological professions officer will act as principal independent advisor to government regarding all aspects of psychological policy, education, research and practice and on matters relating to psychological wellbeing
The NHS long-term plan offers an opportunity to significantly expand access to psychological healthcare in all its forms and to deliver more integrated care for patients. But delivering this transformation means psychological approaches to healthcare must be “hard wired’ into the NHS architecture at all levels – national, regional and local.
Critical to achieving this will be having a chief officer for the psychological professions within NHS England/Improvement providing the strategic vision, leadership and coordination to make the plan a reality.
So, at this crucial moment for the future of the NHS and our approaches to mental health, we are joining with other professional bodies and service users to call for the appointment of a chief psychological professions officer for England, putting the psychological professions on a par with our medical, nursing and allied health professions colleagues.
This role is critical if we are to make good on the promises of the NHS long-term plan and deliver the changes to psychological healthcare that patients want and deserve.