IAPT, No Better Than Placebo?

There is no compelling evidence that the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service is any better than a placebo, yet its’ expansion continues to be funded, despite £4 billion having already having been spent on it. Barkham and Saxon (2018)  in their study of IAPT, found a within subjects  overall effect size of 0.93, amongst clients attending a mean of 6-9 treatment sessions. [Effect size is calculated by subtracting the mean post-treatment score from the mean pre-treatment score and dividing by the pooled pretreatment standard deviation]. But Huneke et al (2020) S0033291720003633 cite placebo effect sizes of between 0.65 to 1.29 in anxiety disorder outcome studies. This raises serious doubts on the added value of IAPT.  They further note that approximately 30% of patients in antidepressant and antipsychotic trials respond to placebo treatment. Whilst Barkham and Saxon indicate that 50% of IAPT clients make a reliable and clinically significant improvement, adjusting this figure for differences in the severity of mental illness, likely produces a response rate not obviously different to that in IAPT. 

However the above considerations are not definitive, IAPT’s performance has never been compared with an active control condition, leaving the jury out on its’ performance. Unfortunately this has left IAPT free to drain the public purse at will. The ultimate disgrace is that the Government/Public Health England have not subjected IAPT to independent scrutiny. Such a position would not be tolerated with regards to a vaccine, but it is apparently ok to look the other way on mental health.

Dr Mike Scott

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