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Health and Wellbeing Blog

This week’s blog bisects a busy week for me, with BPS business taking me to Brighton, London, Edinburgh, back to London and Llandudno, and extending from Sunday morning to Saturday afternoon.

My first appointments were at the Liberal Democrat Conference. I believe it is important for us, and indeed our colleagues in the other medical Royal Colleges, to be present at these events, even if little material work is done.

At the conference of the party in power, work is appropriately delegated to official government departments, agencies and civil servants. At this year’s Labour Conference, I confidently expect ‘leadership’ to be the dominant topic of conversation. The Liberal Democrats have only sufficient MPs to fit into two taxis….

They are opportunities for personal conversations – with friends who lead work on, for example, mental health care, dementia care, the interface between health and social care, and the role of third-sector and commercial organisations in these areas. So our presence sends the message that the BPS is interested and engaged with these key issues.

So, on Sunday and Monday I had a number of such one-to-one conversations, and participated in roundtable discussions (skilfully organised by the BPS staff), ensuring that the BPS voice is heard in these circles.

In particular, I represented the BPS at two key roundtable discussions.

One was on the fall-out from Brexit, where the BPS has important concerns, shared with many professional and academic colleagues, on EU funding of research, EU students at our universities, the transferability of qualifications and professional competencies on the staffing of the NHS and social care, where a large proportion of our colleagues are EU nationals, and potentially subject to threats to their residency status).

The second was on mental health policy, where the BPS has very clear interests in promoting a psycho-social perspective, the value of psychologists themselves, the benefits of a focus on prevention as well as psychological interventions for identified problems, and the more general health benefits of a consideration of psychological aspects of care.

More detailed discussions will be had in other settings, including in all-party parliamentary groups, where we will, for example, be launching our new dementia report.

Members may also take the opportunity to participate in a couple of interesting ‘commissions’ launched at the Lib Dem Conference. Nick Clegg is leading on a new commission with the Social Market Foundation on equity in education (something I imagine will appeal to BPS members) and Norman Lamb announced a cross-party review of the future structure and funding of health and social care, with a particular focus on integration of services.

I’m only halfway through my week, so thus far I’ve had meetings of our Presidential taskforce on the training of applied psychologists in statutory settings.

This was a really positive meeting which has the potential to help us develop powerful tools for lobbying for appropriate respect for the services and skills offered by applied psychologists, a coherent model of professional training which will allow us to negotiate confidently with funders and commissioners, and the potential to grow the membership of the family of psychology and indeed the BPS itself.

We have also been talking with colleagues from NHS England about improving our recognition and capacity to hold meaningful discussions within NHS England and related bodies.

Right now… I’m off to Edinburgh, to open a conference tomorrow on how psychology can respond to the challenge of compassion in the NHS, especially highlighted by a number of recent enquiries into failings in health and social care.

That evening, I’ll be travelling back down to London for the free annual joint lecture with the British Academy and the BPS exploring the effects of stress on the brain.

On all these events. plus possible televised discussion on psychological wellbeing and mental health, and then the political fun and games at the Labour Party Conference, I’ll hope to offer more in next week’s blog.

Wed, 21/09/2016 - 16:43

We are always actively seeking members’ input to a great number of live consultations on policy issues related to psychology. Right now, two are particularly worthy of mention.

 In April, following the comprehensive spending review and significant further pressure on public spending in health and social care, the UK government announced that: “From 1 August 2017, new nursing, midwifery and allied health students will no longer receive NHS bursaries. Instead, they will have access to the same student loans system as other students.” That means  nursing and other healthcare students will soon be required to take out loans to fund their training.

The Department of Health has launched a consultation on how to implement this change and we are seeking our members’ views on how to respond. We are deeply concerned about the possible impact on these students, and therefore on the ability of the health and social care systems to deliver the services upon which we all rely.

Although student loans are now the norm in England and Wales, this is not the case across the UK as a whole. I remain committed to the idea that free, universal, education is an ideal of any civilised society. More importantly, for these particular students, the prospect of tens of thousands of pounds of additional debt at the end of training will have a negative impact on the future of these professionals and the patients in their care.

Our response is likely to stress the unwelcome nature of these changes for the overall delivery of psychological health care. Providing the best standards of care requires many different types of healthcare professionals working together in multi-disciplinary teams – any negative impact to one part of the system will have a knock on effect.

Currently, training for Clinical Psychology and some other mental health professions (including psychological therapists in the IAPT programme and child psychotherapists) that are funded indirectly by Health Education England are unaffected.

We are cautiously reassured that psychologists have been spared from the effects of these reforms for now. This move reflects the recognition that psychologists in training deliver invaluable services to the NHS… much like our junior doctor colleagues.

At the same time, a different arm of the political octopus – the House of Commons public accounts committee (not, technically, an arm of Government, but holding government to account) – has announced a call for evidence on the topic of ‘improving access to mental health services’.

The public accounts committee noted various positive steps taken (or announced) in this area: clear commitments from the prime minister and the Department of Health to improve mental health services, for ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health, and, therefore clear access and waiting time standards.

The committee has raised concerns, following a rather sceptical report by the National Audit Office that said the cost of improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT), early intervention in psychosis and liaison psychiatry services could be 25 per cent higher than clinical commissioning groups have spent in the past and that their budgets may not stretch.

The British Psychological Society will be making a written submission to the Committee. Our view is likely to be that it is not only welcome but necessary, to follow through with these ‘Parity of Esteem’ commitments. People have a right to expect the NHS to provide NICE-recommended care whether in the field of physical or mental healthcare.

Investment in health and social care is not only a moral imperative and necessary for a well-functioning society, but it also represents value for money. Psychological health, particularly preventative and early intervention services, represents a clear net saving to the public purse in the avoidance of higher, future, costs.

The BPS has a stronger influence if we respond in one unified voice. If you wish to add to our discussions please contribute by emailing the Society consultations address or contact me directly. 

Find out more about my plans for next week.

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 15:07

The cliché is that we should fix our own oxygen masks before helping others. Working in a therapeutic profession is a privilege, but there are good, even self-serving, reasons to ensure that those professionals changed with helping others are properly protected.

Many of us have been concerned by apparent pressures on junior doctors and proposals to require young people entering nursing and other professions to take out loans to fund their training. And there are pressures on the ‘psych’ professions, too.

A short time ago, we reported on the findings from the joint British Psychological Society and New Savoy Partnership staff wellbeing survey. This revealed worrying apparent increases in staff stress since a similar survey in 2014, with 46 per cent of psychological professionals surveyed reporting depressed mood and 49 per cent reporting feeling they are a failure. Seventy per cent of the 1348 people surveyed said they were finding their job stressful. More details of the survey, and the results, can be found in a detailed paper.

I’m delighted that the BPS, in collaboration with the New Savoy Partnership and with the support of Public Health England, launched a Charter for Psychological Staff Wellbeing and Resilience. But we also have a responsibility to act.

So, on 21 June, at the BPS London Offices, we’ll see the next stage in this process, when Jamie Hacker Hughes (Vice-President of the BPS) and Jeremy Clarke (Chair of the New Savoy Conference) will launch a Collaborative Learning Network to share best practice on practical measures to improve staff wellbeing.

We have an obligation to our colleagues and to those who use our services to ensure that our workplaces are compassionate and safe. We need to use our skills to facilitate accountable autonomy, reflective practice, participation in decision-making, staff engagement and creation of a non-discriminatory ethos, where difference and diversity are meaningfully sought alongside work-life balance. These are valuable for us as employees, but they are also vital if we are to have compassionate and empathic services.

Find out more about my plans for next week.

Wed, 25/05/2016 - 11:13

Today, Peter Kinderman, President Elect,  Roxane Gervais, DOP Chair, and I met with David Halpern of The Behavioural Insights Team.

In addition to receiving a briefing on the current work of the BIT, a useful discussion was had about building on the work we have been carrying out this year raising the Society's profile to national and devolved government to increase the impact of the Society and psychology on policy.

You can find one example of this, the Society's behaviour change briefings, on this website.

Mon, 21/03/2016 - 16:53

Tuesday saw me in Cardiff, where I spoke at a BPS Wales round table event in the Welsh Assembly. This was sponsored by David Rees AM, Chair of the Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee, and was attended by a number of Welsh Assembly Members.

The event raised the critical issue of the obesity challenge in Wales and how psychological research and practice can help policymakers, service providers and the population in general to better understand and respond to this major health and wellbeing crisis.

I was joined by fellow psychologists Dr Katie Thirlaway, Dr Lynda Durell and Dr Deborah Lancastle, whose presentations all stressed the key role psychological expertise, both research and practice based, can play in informing obesity prevention and treatment interventions across the age range.

Tue, 01/03/2016 - 10:49

Sunday 11 October was World Obesity Day. To mark it, I was one of seven psychologists who signed this letter to the press:
BATHROOM SCALES

Patients who are obese, as well as those who are affected by diabetes, chronic pain and other physical health conditions linked to obesity often have a combination of a high body mass index, unhealthy lifestyle and difficulty in making behavioural changes which would help reduce their symptoms. 

Practitioner psychologists have a crucial role to play in helping patients to make long term positive changes to their unhelpful and unhealthy behaviours.  Indeed, there is extensive evidence to show that psychologists have a key role to play in helping patients to move towards healthier and happier outcomes.

Given psychologists' expertise in facilitating behaviour change, the strong evidence-base demonstrating their impact and effectiveness and the likelihood that health psychology input could reduce the burden on GPs; we would like to draw attention to the current shortage of practitioner psychologists in the NHS and call for this situation to be redressed.

The full list of signatories was Dr Max Benjamin, Imperial College London; Dr Angela Busutill, Sussex Partnership NHS Trust; Dr Paul Chadwick, Royal Free Hospital; Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, President, British Psychological Society; Professor Stephen Joseph, University of Nottingham; Fenella Lemonsky, Imperial College; Professor Daryl O'Connor, University of Leeds; and Professor Karen Rodham, University of Staffordshire.

Our letter drew on the Society’s 2011 report, ‘Obesity in the UK: A psychological perspective’, the result of cross-discipline working group including clinical, educational, health, counselling and sport and exercise psychologists. It highlighted the added value that psychological and therapeutic approaches can offer when integrated effectively with other obesity treatments.

Tue, 13/10/2015 - 16:17

The new school year is well under way and later this month families will enjoy half term. I heard this week that October is Walk to School Month, which got me thinking about the BPS behaviour change briefing on physical (in)activity.

It notes that in 2008 only 32 per cent of boys and 24 per cent of girls achieved the recommended level of physical activity.

The Society’s briefing is primarily about physical activity in adults, but it does support the idea of incorporating more exercise into your daily routine rather than suddenly joining a gym. And perhaps parents could get more exercise by walking with their children and arranging activities for half term?

Many will already know how keen I am on running, and it's been good to run together with other psychologists in various places around the country. I'm thinking of seeing if we can get psychologists running together at a number of events around the UK next year too.

Only a thought at this stage but it might be yet another, slightly different, way of continuing to raise our profile.

You can hear the lead author of the briefing, Mark Uphill, talking about the ideas behind it in an audio interview on the BPS website.

The Society has published five of these behaviour change briefings. The other topics covered are:

  • school attendance, exclusion and persistent absence
  • energy conservation
  • tax and tax compliance
  • personal debt.
Wed, 07/10/2015 - 15:05

When I visited the Division of Health Psychology annual conference in London last week everyone seemed delighted with the venue and the scientific programme.

For the first time the event featured an expert webinar. Dr Vincent Deary used a single clinical case to show that health psychologists must work in a truly multidisciplinary way to understand and intervene effectively in someone’s life.

The webinar was streamed live and you can now watch a video of it on Youtube.

The new chair of the DHP is Professor Karen Rodham from Staffordshire University. The photograph above shows Karen receiving her BPS badge and In the one below I am meeting members of DHP Scotland. (Photo credits: @SarahEGolding @HealthPsyScot)

Mon, 28/09/2015 - 11:37