Psychology in the political world

A selection of recent news items showing our influence as a Society or giving useful information

Westminster Hall debate on psychological therapies

The words of Nichola Rooney, a former chair of our Northern Ireland Branch, were quoted during a Westminster Hall debate on psychological therapies. The debate was held on 16 October 2013.

Jim Shannon, Demoratic Unionist MP for Strangford, said:

"Due to the years of suffering through the troubles, many people in Northern Ireland have poor physical, emotional, behavioural and/or mental health conditions. Dr Nichola Rooney ... said that there is 'historical underinvestment in psychological therapy services for people suffering from mental health difficulties in Northern Ireland'. I am sure that is replicated UK-wide."

Read more about the debate in our news report.

Psychology at the 2012 party conferences

Stephen Lea, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Exeter, is speaking at fringe meetings being held as part of the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences this month.

Organised by the Science Council, the meetings will be held under the title ‘The Appliance of Science: growth, jobs and policy’. They will see eminent speakers making the case for science and discuss the important role government can play in supporting investment and innovation.

Professor Lea will represent the Society, speaking on the behavioural science behind citizens’ participation in a successful economy and how they respond to changing economic climates.

He says:  “Fundamentally, the economy depends on confidence.  Investors have to have confidence in the firms they Banks have to have confidence in their borrowers; consumers have to have confidence in their future incomes.  Research in economic psychology has shown some of the factors that affect consumer confidence, and that they can be strong enough to make the difference between recession and growth in the economy as a whole.  Among those factors are the messages delivered by both government and the media."

Dr Peter Banister, President of the British Psychological Society, says: “We are pleased to be involved in the party conference season for the first time through our partnership with the Science Council. Our participation is a reflection of the recognition by the political and wider scientific communities that evidence-based psychology has an important contribution to make to the development and implementation of public policy.”

The meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester will take place on 2 October and that at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham will take place on Tuesday 9 October. Both events will be chaired by Diana Garnham, Chief Executive of the Science Council.

Overhaul of child performance regulations

Professor John Oates from the Centre for Childhood Development at the Open University represented the Society in the consultation process leading to the publication of new regulations for child performers by the Department for Education.

He says: “With support from other BPS colleagues in the Media Ethics Advisory Group, it has been possible to highlight the importance of recognising the potential risks to children and young people and their vulnerabilities when they engage in performances ranging from reality TV through drama productions to modelling. This focus on risks and the assessment of them is a key part of the proposed new legislation.”

The new proposals suggest that a licence should continue to be required where a child is placed in an artificial circumstance which has been contrived for dramatic or editorial effect and which presents risks the child would not face during the ordinary course of their life. ‘Fly on the wall' programmes, factual documentaries or interviews with children where the circumstances have not been particularly contrived for dramatic or editorial effect will not require licensing.

They also suggest that the current legislation allows little flexibility to local authority licensing officers, who are obliged to spend time chasing and checking paperwork. A new framework is needed so that local authorities can focus on protecting children from real risk, rather than being tied up in the administration of unnecessary bureaucracy.

Professor Oates represented the Society and the interests of children and young people in the Thane review, in advice to the Department of Education, as a member of Tim Loughton MP’s advisory group and facilitator of a working group on safeguarding and then in the preparation of the public consultation.

Health and Social Care Bill

The Society’s President, Dr Carole Allan has written to Rt. Hon. Andrew Lansley MP, Secretary of State for Health, to reiterate the Society’s concerns and explain that as a result of these concerns the Society does not support the Health and Society Care Bill in its current form.

In its response to the Government’s NHS modernisation ‘listening exercise’, the Society expressed major concerns at the implications of the Health and Social Care Bill. The BPS believes that there is scope to streamline commissioning arrangements and enhance clinical input. However, the Society is concerned about the potential loss of expertise from existing commissioners. Moreover, the BPS believes that all the relevant professions, including Psychologists, should be represented on new commissioning bodies, and not be solely drawn from General Practitioners.

Dr Allan said: “The Society remains committed to working with the Government on NHS reform. We are pleased that some of the concerns we have raised are addressed by the proposed amendments to the Bill. However, we have a number of outstanding concerns that have not yet been resolved and for this reason I have written personally to Andrew Lansley to reiterate our remaining concerns and explain that as a result of these concerns the BPS does not support the Bill in its current form”.

The Chair of the NHS listening exercise, Professor Sir Steve Field, spoke at the BPS Division of Clinical Psychology’s Annual conference in December 2011. He stated that proposals to broaden the expertise, including psychological professionals within commissioning consortia, have also come from a wide range of health service groups and have now been reflected within a number of amendments to the Bill.

However whilst the Society welcomes many of the proposed amendments to the Bill, significant outstanding concerns remain.

In the Society’s response to the NHS listening exercise last year it was highlighted that patients frequently have complex medical and psychological needs, and require services that work together both within and across organisational boundaries. Consequently, the Society stated a view that Monitor should not have a duty to promote competition as an end in itself. Instead Monitor should have an obligation to promote the provision of high-quality, and equitable care which may mean ensuring that there is effective collaboration between providers in addition to any appropriately managed competition.

Prescription of antipsychotic drugs

A written reply by health minister Simon Burns from 20 February 2012 gives a breakdown of the prescription of these drugs over the past year by Primary Care Trust.

Supporting children's mental health

In reply to a written question from Chris Ruane (Labour MP for the Vale of Clwyd) , Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families, said on 1 February 2012:

"The Government recognise the important and valued role schools play in supporting children's mental health. We are clear that the education system needs to work effectively with the health service to identify and support children who have serious or complex mental health problems.

"Ultimately, what kind of support is required and where that support is delivered is a matter for local decision, based on local need. It is for health and education bodies to work together to determine when that support should be delivered directly in schools. Schools can also use their own budgets to purchase services to meet the needs of pupils, including supporting pupils' emotional and mental health. Funding for these types of support is included in the Department's Early Intervention Grant to local authorities.”

Mindfulness-based therapies

In reply to a written question from Chris Ruane, Paul Burstow, Minister of State (Care Services) at Department for Health, said on 23 January 2012:

"The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has evaluated and recommends the use of mindfulness-based therapies as a psychological intervention for the prevention of relapse within its guideline Depression: the treatment and management of depression in adults, a copy of which has been placed in the Library."

Our evidence to the Leveson Inquiry

The press should consider the psychological implications of stories they publish, says the British Psychological Society in a submission to the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press.

The Society recognises that much of the coverage of psychological issues and research is accurate and balanced, due to the skill and dedication of the specialist science and health journalists employed in the national press.

However, the submission also considers the implications of headlines, oversimplifying research findings and insensitive reporting on psychological topics such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Ethical issues are always high on the agenda of the psychological community. The Society’s submission it is crucial that people should be aware of the consequences of exposure in the media. It suggests the Society’s guidelines on media ethics could be helpful to the Inquiry in encouraging newspapers to consider the psychological implications of news and features, both for the individuals involved and for their wider readership.

The Society also supported the recommendations submitted by the Science Media Centre to the Inquiry earlier this month.

Members of the Society who contributed to the submission were: Dr Carole Allan CPsychol (President of the BPS), Dr Cynthia McVey CPsychol, Professor John Oates, Dr Ceri Parsons, Dr Sinead Rhodes and Dr Mark Sergeant CPsychol.

You can read the full Society submission on this website.

The BPS and DSM-V

The Society’s concerns about the proposed new edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) were quoted in parliament on 25 October 2011.

Pat McFadden, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East, obtained a Westminster Hall debate on the prescription of Ritalin and other drugs to treat children diagnosed with behavioural disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

He expressed concerns about the number of children being prescribed medication, the age at which some prescriptions were made and the way that the level of prescribing varies across the country. He asked the Department of Health to conduct a review into these questions.

McFadden quoted the Society’s views when suggesting that some people are concerned at a trend towards the over-medicalisation of behavioural problems. He said:

"The British Psychological Society, for example, has expressed serious concerns about DSM-V. Its response to the impending introduction of the fifth edition states:

"'The Society is concerned that clients and the general public are negatively affected by the continued and continuous medicalisation of their natural and normal responses to their experiences; responses which undoubtedly have distressing consequences which demand helping responses, but which do not reflect illnesses so much as normal individual variation.'

"It goes on:

"'Diagnostic systems such as these therefore fall short of the criteria for legitimate medical diagnoses. They certainly identify troubling or troubled people, but do not meet the criteria for categorisation demanded for a field of science or medicine.'"

The senior backbenchers Paul Flynn and Frank Field made brief interventions in the debate.

Replying for the government, the health minister Simon Burns did announce the review that McFadden had requested. He said the Department of Health was investigating whether further helpful information can be derived from prescribing research databases. However, he said, it is for NICE, not the Department, to review the broader evidence and to consider the case for updating existing clinical guidelines.

You can read the full debate on They Work for You and the full text of the Society’s response to the consultation on DSM-V can be found on this website.

World Mental Health Day 2011

On 10 October the Society joined five other professional organisations to call for mental health funding to be maintained despite the economic downturn in a letter sent to a number of national newspapers.