Following NICE Guidance On Covid Treatment Threatens To Overwhelm Mental Health Services

Yesterday NICE issued guidance on the management of Covid post 12 weeks (long term) https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng188 and recommends that those with mild anxiety or mild depression are referred to mental health services, with severe cases of anxiety/depression referred to psychiatrists. IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) has already been conducting webinars for its’ Step 3 staff, within which concerns were expressed about possibly overwhelming services and the pathologising of normality. Despite this further webinars are planned for the low intensity (Step 2) staff. Buoyed by its’ success in attracting monies for psychological therapies for long-term conditions (LTCs), such as chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, IAPT sees an opportunity to extend its’ reach to those affected by Covid. Those with long term Covid are likely to suffer the same fate of those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome of not being really listened to. 

Given that according to NICE the most common features of long term Covid are fatigue, ‘brain fog’ and breathlessness, and that ‘symptoms of anxiety and depression’  are presented as possible symptoms of Covid at any stage, how is it possible to make an additional diagnosis of anxiety and depression? With the exception of the few, Covid patients who may be suicidal the distinction between the physical and psychological symptoms is fraught with difficulties. One response is to ignore the distinction, ignore the science and claim that all with Covid need a psychological therapist, but there is no scientific evidence for this – albeit that it suits the purposes of service providers to make such a claim. If you were not feeling ‘mildly anxious or depressed’ when you contract Covid that is probably very worrying!

An editorial in the British Medical Journal http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4425 bemoans the medico-political contexts that has hampered scientists expressing their concerns over the evidence base for handling Covid. But such a medico-political context has operated for years with regard to IAPT. There has been no independent evidence that IAPT’s work with sufferer’s from LTC’s has led to the resolution of accompanying psychological disorders. There has been no comparison with an active placebo or with the fate of LTC sufferers before the advent of IAPT.  The National Audit Office was allowed to suspend its’ investigation of IAPT in 2017, with no check on the appropriateness of having spent £4 billion of the public purse on the Service. Matters have been compounded by the BABCP’s (the lead organisation for cbt) unwavering support for IAPT and the British Psychological Society’s endorsement of IAPT training. Despite any evidence that the competence of therapists trained relates to client outcome Liness et al (2019) https://www.dropbox.com/s/e26n191ie09sngs/Competence%20and%20Outcome%20IAPT%20no%20relation%202019.pdf?dl=0.

2021 can only get better, one needs hope, I think that this is the message of Christmas.

Dr Mike Scott