On July 31st 2017, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt announced funding for an extra 2,900 new therapists in Adult Mental Health talking therapy services. A week earlier the National Audit Office invited submissions for its’ investigation into IAPT, with a closing date of this Autumn. It is clearly the time of the year for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party:
be careful that you don’t mutter under your breath at such gatherings that ‘evidence should precede action’, if heard it could be ‘off with your head’.
But beware, the historian High Trevor Roper wrote in the Last Days of Hitler ‘mythopoeia is a far more common characteristic of the human race than veracity’. The wholesale endorsement of IAPT by BABCP and to a lesser extent by BPS reflects mythopoeia:
IAPT with its low intensity modality has attempted to make therapy ‘simpler’ than simple, resulting in ineffective treatment. When it comes to the high intensity modality it has made matters ‘simpler’ than simple, by abandoning reliable diagnosis/high specification of problem/s as a Sat Nav for treatment again often resulting in ineffective treatment.
Below is the National Audit Office’s request for evidence re: IAPT, I note they have a whistleblower’s policy. It may be possible to ask for anonymity. I would hope that BABCP and BPS would make a submission to the National Audit Office, but to my knowledge this is not on the agenda of either, why not?
‘The National Audit Office is currently carrying out an investigation into the performance data of IAPT services. The investigation is focussing on waiting times, but also refers to the reported 50% recovery rates and can accept information about the collection and measurement of data across IAPT outcomes.
This is a genuine opportunity for us to challenge the data on which mental health service targets are being set.
Many of you have important experience of what is happening in IAPT services that is crucial for the NAO in building an accurate picture of what is going on.
The NAO website is HERE and below is the information provided about the inquiry.
Improving Access to Psychological Therapies performance data
The ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’ (IAPT) programme increases access to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence approved treatment for depression and anxiety disorders. In October 2014, the Department of Health and NHS England jointly published Achieving Better Access to Mental Health Services by 2020. This set new standards for the time people should wait for mental health treatment and the care they should be able to access. In the case of IAPT services, the standards are that 75% of people referred should be treated within six weeks, and 95% within 18 weeks of referral, and that 50% of those who complete treatment will recover. NHS Digital publishes monthly statistics that report performance against these standards. This investigation will establish the facts around how the national statistics are prepared.
This is a really significant opportunity for us to share our experiences of what is going wrong in performance management of services. Please, take the time to contribute to the report’.
Thanks to Steve Flatt for alerting me to the above from the ‘Surviving Work’ website
NHS Psychological Therapists feel so threatened by their employer that Consultant Psychologist, Dr Michael Scott has set up an independent online support group for them at cbtwatch.com. A Therapist from the Government funded, Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) Service, in the South of England, wrote to the forum:
I am leaving… .. while many patients have a very positive experience of IAPT, a significant number have had a far more negative, even sometimes damaging experience:
I have spoken to people who have I have spoken to people who have told me their 30 minute telephone assessment left them distressed and confused, having talked about highly sensitive topics without the time to process the emotional aftermath.
I have spoken to people who dropped out of treatment and decided CBT was a waste of time, after being misdiagnosed and offered unsuitable guided self-help.
I have come across people with deep seated trauma being offered six sessions of telephone therapy, and feeling that this left them ultimately worse off.
I have also spoken to people dismayed and angry because they unavoidably missed one appointment and subsequently received a letter telling them they had been discharged and would need to re-refer, and go back on the waiting list’.
Dr Scott commented that ‘it speaks volumes that I have to use a pseuodonym, Zara, to express the therapist’s voice’. He is author of ‘Towards a Mental Health System That Works’ published by Routledge earlier this year and said ‘I had to set up a safe harbour for therapists like ‘Zara’ at cbtwatch.com. My own research, conducted without any conflict of interest, across services across Merseyside suggests that the recovery rate from a diagnosed disorder in IAPT is just 15%’. ‘Zara’ added ‘I won’t miss the lost sleep worrying that I may be put on performance management measures if I fail to maintain a 50% recovery rate, and I certainly won’t miss witnessing, and indeed experiencing, some of the management bullying tactics I have seen in IAPT’. Dr Scott commented ‘ IAPT have always marked their own homework, there has never been an independent audit, using a ‘gold standard’ diagnostic interview. Not only is it likely that taxpayer’s money is being wasted but the average therapist and patient far from being helped, is stressed by the experience, MPs, Clinical Commissioning Groups and the National Audit Office need to take up this issue’.
Dr James Davies, Reader in Social Anthropology and Mental Health at the University of Roehampton, author of the forthcoming book ‘Mental Health and Neo-liberalism’ comments ‘an impartial observer looking at the IAPT data, could not help but conclude that the Service haemorrhages clients, and that the criteria it uses for success are very suspicious’.
IAPT uses psychometric tests to identify ‘cases’ and changes in test score to gauge effectiveness. This is not an evidence based assessment and without it there can be no evidence based treatment.
A psychometric test can’t exist in a vacuum it has to refer to something tangible i.e it must have criterion related validity. For example in last month’s British Journal of Psychiatry, Quinlivan et al [‘Predictive accuracy of risk scales following self-harm’] assessed the ability of risk scales to predict whether a person will make a further suicide attempt (the criterion). It was found that the much used scales, did not in fact predict self-harm, i.e they lacked criterion validity. Thus when psychometric tests such as the PHQ-9 (an intended measure of depression) and GAD-7 (an intended measure of generalised anxiety disorder) are used, individual test results are only meaningful if they are actually the ‘footprint’ of the construct under examination. Imagine seeing a footprint in the snow:
does it relate to the abominable snowman, a polar bear, a human being or the great yeti? Without a specification of what it refers to changes in the footprint found are meaningless. Thus when IAPT use the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 in isolation it is not known to what they refer, as no reliable diagnostic interview has been performed. Is the person simply stressed, depressed, worried well or what? The myriad possibilities likely have very different trajectories e.g the stressed improving as the stressor passes. Lumping them altogether, creates confusion, prevents any evidence based assessment, which is the foundation for evidence based treatment. Clients cannot be reliably signposted to anything, resulting in the wrong tools being used:
Worryingly, I wrote a rejoinder to a paper by Ali et al in this month’s Behavior Research and Therapy, on relapse after IAPT low intensity intervention, making the point that they had abused psychometric test results in just this way, it was rejected, the reviewers pointed out that I hadn’t included a reference supporting criterion related validity! I despair. The reviewers tried to justify the approach of Ali et al on the grounds that the PHQ-9 is a reliable instrument, identifying 80% of those who are depressed (sensitivity) and 80% of those who are not depressed (specificity), which is true. But this provides no basis on which to judge whether Mr X who scored say 25 on the PHQ-9 should a) be regarded as a ‘case’ of depression and relatedly b) whether his progress should be charted with this measure, a) and b) can only be determined by a reliable standardised diagnostic interview, which is absent from the IAPT assessment protocol. If you found your electrician was measuring current with a voltmeter you would, forgive the pun be ‘shocked’, we need to create a similar state of alarm about the quality of audit in IAPT. There is a pressing need for independent rigorous assessment.
The more I listen to, read about and consider the progress (or lack of it) of the project that is called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) the more thoughts of the actions of the generals in World War One spring to mind. Haig was a classic study in the unwavering belief of cavalry even in the face of machine guns, he had no idea of the conditions his troops were fighting in, he believed that numbers would win out, just like MacNamara fifty years later in Vietnam.Both believed in numbers, sheer volume would win the war for them.
Clark, and his side kick Lord Layard, like his ignominious predecessors, consider that sheer volume of numbers will be sufficient to defeat the epidemic that is mental illness. While Clark and Layard’s numbers are statistics, people are still dying as a result, those sent to fight the war are still being burned out by sheer effort of trying to help others in impossible conditions. For example, 50% of professionals working in front line mental health services are suffering psychological distress, the conditions are intolerable yet most are too frightened to say so. The pressure to achieve a “50% success rate” means that statistics are skewed or even changed to achieved the necessary figure. Professionals are sent for retraining if they don’t achieve and then sent back into the frontline. In the First World War, many soldiers had their wounds stitched up and were then sent back into the front line. As I type this it reminds me of the horses ridden by the toreadors in bull fights; if the horses were gored by the bull they were taken out of the ring stitched up and sent back into ring immediately – amazing cruelty. The same is happening to frontline staff in IAPT.
Yet the politicians are being fed an amazing story of success, in exactly the same way that Haig and others in the First World War sent back messages that told the politicians how well they were doing.
This quote from Historynet really sums it up:
“Haig waged the ensuing political battle with customary remorselessness and prevailed in the bureaucratic trenches. He got everything he wanted in the way of men and materiel for what became known as Third Ypres or Passchendaele, a battle remembered for, among other things, terrain so wet the entire world seemed to consist of nothing but mud and shell holes filled with vile water. Indeed, in no land battle in history did so many men die by drowning.”
So many people are drowning as a result of the disaster that is the Project called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, clients and professionals alike; yet the politicians remain enamoured of the project’s ability to blame the individual for their failure. It matters not whether it be client or professional, the failure lies within the individual, this is the overbearing ideology of the current government and those who seek to prove the model that is supposed to be Improving Access to Psychological Therapies.
Like Haig, Clark seeks to prove his model by asking for more troops (which, like Haig, will be refused; the worst of all worlds) rather than look at the overwhelming evidence that it is not working. For example, of all those who are referred to the service only 16% make some kind of recovery based upon the analysis of psychometric tools. From a service point of view this is a disaster. No company would continue to function on that basis. Yet the government continues to prop up the project on the basis that it is making a difference. What makes it worse is that IAPT continues to mark its own homework – it is time for an independent review.
There has been no measurable difference to the well being of the country as a whole, and only a few lucky people have benefitted as individuals. With regard to the overall well being of the country we are slipping behind that of other nations and if austerity continues the environment will only continue to get worse. As I have said so many times before, a toxic environment cannot be combatted by providing a leaky gas mask. Therapy and resilience training are no match for a cruel and heartless environment created by cruel and heartless politicians.
This month’s Behavior Research and Therapy features a paper by Ali et al in which IAPT data on relapse after low intensity (Li) interventions is reviewed, and it is concluded that further attention to relapse prevention may be needed. I submitted a rejoinder essentially saying that Li-interventions have been a false economy and complaining that it had not been declared that Ali headed the Northern IAPT Research network, but it was rejected.
The editor began her letter of explanation with ‘Each of the reviewers is a highly experienced researcher in the area of low-intensity treatments for depression anxiety’. But that is precisely the problem, researchers in low intensity see no pressing need for independent assessment using a ‘gold standard’ diagnostic interview (unlike their forbearers who conducted the bench-marking studies that gave CBT its’ credibility), although they pay lip service to it.
In practice, low intensity researchers find it ‘reasonable’ to conduct research on outcome solely on the basis of changes in a psychometric test. This strategy enables research to be done on the cheap, produce lots of papers and get brownie points in academia. There is a mutually beneficial groupthink amongst low intensity researchers and the IAPT hierarchy. Low intensity interventions fail an evidence based assessment test with a shameful lowering of the bar of methodological rigour. I will return in future blogs to editors/reviewers scant regard for criterion related validity and the misuse of Jacobsen’s Reliable and Clinically Significant Change Index, an abuse that is rampant in IAPT.
Mental Health Trusts today announced that three quarters of extra monies promised for mental health services are not getting through. A mental health sinkhole has appeared, the depth of which is measured by under-funding and the width by poor quality services. Casualties include an estimated 694,000 people who were treatment failures in the Government funded IAPT service in 2014/2015, 85% of those treated. A further one third of those referred to IAPT did not enter treatment.
I reviewed the trajectories of 65 people who went through IAPT Services in the North West of England using a ‘gold standard’ diagnostic interview just 15% recovered from their disorder. [ Scott (2017) Towards a Mental Health System that Works London: Routledge]. I am wholly independent of IAPT and I made the analysis on the basis of data available to me as an Expert Witness to the Court. Applying this recovery rate to the national picture suggests a massive casualty rate.
Just this past week I picked up a ‘casualty’ who had had 6 sessions with IAPT, she had had a fall 2 years ago, become effectively housebound, though able to walk for 10-15 mins. She was referred to IAPT and had 6 sessions of CBT for depression, to no avail and she was very frustrated by the therapist who had said ‘do you think you might have OCD?’ one week then the next week ‘what about body dysmorphic disorder?’. No further treatment was offered. I found she was depressed but what had not been identified or addressed was that she had a phobia about falling and sustaining further injury. It was this phobia that was driving the depression and needed to be the therapeutic focus.
When the organs of communication are controlled by a single ideology we are on a short road to hell. Recently I protested to the Editor of Behavior Research and Therapy (BRAT), that no conflict of interest had been declared in a paper authored by Ali et al published in this month’s issue of the Journal, focusing on IAPT data on relapse after low intensity interventions. I pointed out that the lead author headed the Northern IAPT research network, not only did the editor ignore the conflict of interest but so to did the two reviewers, of a rejoinder to the paper that I wrote. But it is not just BRAT, IAPT sponsored papers regularly appear in Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy without declarations of conflicts of interest. I have protested to the editor about this, but again to no avail. Unfortunately it is not just a matter of what Editors of CBT Journals allow through the ‘Nothing to Declare’ aisle but also their blocking of objections to the current zeitgeist that is a cause for concern. More about this anon.
‘The good news is we have successfully amputated your right leg, the bad news is we operated on the wrong leg’. The moral is that there can be no evidence based CBT treatment without an evidence based assessment (EBA). But EBA’s are increasingly absent in order to ease the research burden, ‘just rely on a psychometric test’, and reduce ‘treatment’ costs.
Emergency medicine operates on the 7 P’s, ‘Proper Pre-planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance’. Is it seriously proper-pre-planning to operate as IAPT do, with a typically 15-20 minute telephone conversation, conducted by the most junior member of staff, to be then placed on waiting list of upto 6 months for a treatment of indeterminate appropriateness? The reliability of this ‘pre-planning’ has never been assessed by anyone independent of IAPT. But this has not stopped Clinical Commissioning Groups often ring fencing IAPT monies at the expense of other mental health service providers. The CCG’s need to be reminded that they ought to be working in an evidence based framework were the results of randomised controlled trials with independent assessment of outcomes hold sway (the top of the pyramid below). 60% of IAPT clients receive low intensity treatment, this is way down at the bottom of the evidence pyramid below, with a high potential for bias, reflected in powerful marketing.
It is time that CCG’s told IAPT that their pre-planning is simply unacceptable, there has to be an evidence based assessment. It is time the National Audit Office asked why are we continuing to fund a Service that has not been independently evaluated using ‘gold standard’, diagnostic assessment procedure. But most of all it is time to listen to those subjected to an inhospitable and unhelpful service. MP’s have to insist they are listened to.