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Defending NHS bursaries and improving access to services

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.