Imagine you lived in a country where there was a pharmacy and a GP in every town but few hospitals. The pharmacy and GP’s services were widely advertised, encouraging all the unwell, or those who had not really thought of their symptoms before as illnesses to come in, get checked out and get treatment. The government set targets that a certain percentage of the population must be treated by the pharmacy and GP each year – if that target was not met the commissioners would be castigated by NHS England and an expensive tender process would be instigated, to bring “healthy competition“ to the market.
What if a GP and pharmacy were successful in advertising for all the patients and people turned up in their hundreds per month? You realise that you have not got enough supplies and enough staff to treat them all, so you “innovate” new methods, such as getting 12 patients at a time into the room and talking to them about what might be wrong rather than having time to check their individual symptoms. People with symptoms of diabetes were taught about diabetes, if the symptoms were there for another reason and didn’t resolve– what then? Maybe send them on another course and see if that sorted them out, maybe some internet self-help on diet or lifestyle would do – or, maybe they need to be checked out at hospital…..oh….there is no hospital, there was no money to concurrently expand the hospital, in fact, commissioners had saved money on the quiet by closing the hospital because there are no government targets for treating those outside of the GP and pharmacy. There are just a few hospitals further away with not enough capacity to see any more people whose piles may actually be bowel cancer or whose aches and pains are actually a degenerative rheumatoid arthritis.
As a patient who needed more than the GP and pharmacy can offer, you are confused and sad and angry -the GP and pharmacy advertised all over town saying – come and see us if you have these symptoms, but then you are told that there is nowhere to go if physio doesn’t fix that carpal tunnel and you need an operation, nowhere to go for the intravenous antibiotics for your severe infection where the standard course is not enough.
Imagine being a staff member at the pharmacy or GP – wanting to care for people and help them but having no time, having to break the bad news that, yes, there are recognised treatments for what you have but only at hospitals and we don’t have one of them, there is a private one but if you can’t pay you will go unwell and untreated. Might it seem to you that you need more staff to at least try and better help with the supplies that you do have? Oh, you discover that, although the government set guidelines for numbers to be seen, wait list times and recovery rates they set no guidelines for staff numbers and experience. So the commissioners have no basis to give you more budget for more staff and tell you rather to get on with the job or you will lose the service to another provider who magically can get the job done. Might you become stressed, depressed and less able to do your job?
This country is IAPT country. The country that demanded that its services for mild to moderate mental health conditions be built, with high targets to meet, with no proper staffing guidelines. The country that forgot to consider that expanding a mild to moderate service would attract the full spectrum of mental ill health. The country that once did the maths for how many therapists would be needed on the back of an envelope and then lost the envelope.
The country that forgot that not expanding but actually cutting your services for the more unwell would breed the cruelty of unattainable promises to the unwell, staff exhaustion and a desperation that leads to cooking the books to show that targets are met rather than standing up and saying that the Emperor of this country who proclaims that IAPT data is sound and targets are met has no clothes on.