Where IAPT Has Never Happened, No Evidence Of Worse Outcome

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG’s) should consider why other parts of the UK have not followed England’s lead on IAPT, after more than a decade. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland  have remained unimpressed by IAPT’s groundbreaking claims and have not followed suit.  In Wales almost 40% of people surveyed said ‘yes’ or ‘mostly’ when asked had the services they accessed led to improved mental health and wellbeing  [Gofal (2016) Peoples experiences of primary mental health services in Wales Three Years On].  The results show that the largest proportion of respondents (79%) were offered prescription medication. The proportion of people who felt that they has been offered advice and information was 77%. 21.5% were offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, while 32% were offered another form of psychological therapy. 36% were offered a further mental health assessment. 26% were referred to another service and 17% were signposted to another service. Just 12% were offered physical exercise, 10% were offered books on prescription and 3% were offered befriending. If you have a mental health problem in Wales it is not obviously worth the trip across the border to an English IAPT service.

There are undoubtedly serious problems with mental health services across the UK, but these are no less in England despite IAPT. .

Dr Mike Scott

‘Attempts to Justify The Cost-Effectiveness of IAPT…Severely Lacking’

this is the conclusion of a recently published study in the Journal of Health Psychology


Scott Steen, the author of the the new cost-benefit analysis, comments ‘The first limitation concerns the high proportion of early disengagement which, according to the latest annual report, around 40 per cent of those entering treatment attend one session only (IAPT, 2018). Within the same annual report, approximately 43 per cent of assessed-only referrals were deemed suitable but declined treatment, while
23 per cent were deemed not suitable, and only 9 per cent were discharged by mutual agreement following advice and support (IAPT, 2018). The second limitation concerns the heavy reliance on brief, self-report measures and lack of long-term outcomes which, when using more in-depth and longitudinal techniques, have found intervention effects to be diminished or even temporary (Ali et al., 2017; Cairns, 2013; Hepgul et al., 2016; Marks, 2018; Scott, 2018)’.

Steen continues ‘research used to justify the economic benefits of the IAPT programme has little relevance for how it delivers and evaluates interventions. For instance, Layard and Clark (2014) cite a study conducted by Fournier et al. (2015) to justify the potential rate at which individuals move from incapacity benefits into employment. However, this specific study focuses only on patients who had recovered from severe depression, were assessed using structured clinical interviews and diagnostic criteria, and were treated by highly trained practitioners, the majority of whom had PhDs. Similarly, research into the long-term effects of interventions appears to have been selectively chosen, omitting the generally limited to mixed findings in this area (Marks, 2018)’.

In summary Steen opines:

Taken as a whole, the IAPT programme seems to be delivering treatment at an inefficient cost. Although outcome targets are being reached, this appears to be due to an increased emphasis on low-intensity styled provision which not only drives up costs-per-IAPT outcome but also potentially reduces the appropriateness of treatment allocation and sustainability of these outcomes’.

All CCGs should be asked to consider this study.


Dr Mike Scott

The Cost of IAPT Is At Least Five Times Greater Than Claimed

The British Medical Journal has just published the following letter of mine online with the above title:

‘Six years ago a News headline in the BMJ proclaimed ‘Increasing access to psychological therapies will cost NHS nothing’ BMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4250, citing a report of Lord Layard  of the Mental Health Policy Group of the Centre for Economic Performance http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/research/mentalhealth/default.asp, that claimed ‘after an average of 10 sessions half the people with anxiety conditions will recover, most of them permanently, and half the patients with depression will recover’ .  Far from being substantiated an independent assessment by Scott (2018), http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1359105318755264, using a standardised diagnostic interview, suggest a 10% recovery rate. This represents a five-fold increase of the cost of treatment per cured person.

The progenitors of IAPT, Clark and Layard in their book Thrive (2015) claim that the cost of treatment in IAPT is £650 per person, for people having attended 2 or more treatment sessions.  This leaves out of account the 40% of its clients who attend only one treatment session [IAPT (2018)] and the costs of the initial assessments which totalled £92 million in 2016-2017, with total costs of £367,219,192 in that period.  This means that the true cost of IAPT is at least 5 times greater than alleged, all without any government funded independent audit. Further average session attendance for those ‘treated’ in IAPT is 6.6 [IAPT (2018)] not the average of 10 sessions that Lord Layard deemed necessary, so that the average patient in fact receives a sub-therapeutic  dose of treatment.

In 2012 Lord Layard claimed ‘the average improvement in physical symptoms is so great that the resulting savings on NHS physical care outweigh the cost of the psychological therapy’. This claim remains unproven and what limited evidence is available points in the opposite direction. How do Clinical Commissioning Groups justify paying such inflated sums? how can they be sure another agency could not achieve the same for less? how do they know that GPs simply tracking clients with depression and anxiety disorders would not achieve the same outcomes? NHS England should surely advise CCG’s to ask searching questions and organise a long overdue government funded independent audit of IAPT focusing on real world outcomes, such as loss of diagnostic status..

BMJ (2012) ;344:e4250 Increasing access to psychological therapies will cost NHS nothing, says report

Clark, D.M and Layard, R (2015) Thrive: The Power of Evidence-Based Psychological Therapies London: Penguin.

IAPT (2018) Psychological Therapies: Annual report on the use of IAPT services England, 2016-17 Data Tables. NHS Digital: Community and Mental Health Team.

Mental  Health Policy Group of the Centre for Economic Performance (2012) How mental health loses out in the NHS.   http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/research/mentalhealth/default.asp.

Scott, M.J (2018) IAPT: The Need for Radical Reform. The Journal of Health Psychology, 23, 1136-1147.


Dr Mike Scott

Discussion With National Audit Office Re: IAPT

On Monday I received a thoughtful, considered and detailed response from the National Audit Office with regards to my submission re: the IAPT investigation. I’ve just penned the following response:

  1. In 2011 the Secretary for State for Health, Andrew Lansley MP and the Minister of State for Care Services, Paul Burstow, MP said stated ‘we are clear that building services around the outcomes which matter to people is the very essence of personalisation’, [Transparency in outcomes a framework for quality in adult social care (2011) Department of Health] so it cannot be for IAPT to choose the yardstick by which it evaluates itself. People seek physical/ psychological treatment in the hope that they will no longer be suffering from an identified disorder by the end of treatment, this is not a matter of clinical judgement, the yardstick is primarily patient driven. If an agency supplies data that does not allow a determination of whether this transparent yardstick is met, then they are remiss. In this connection IAPT ought to be brought to task by the National Audit Office.
  1. Psychometric tests of themselves do not point to any particular NICE approved treatment, if they had this power NICE would have said so, and they did not. Tests are like road signs blowing in the wind, they can only give direction if anchored in a reliable diagnosis. Inappropriate treatment including a failure to treat ( false positives and false negatives) is inevitably ubiquitous when treatment is not moored to diagnosis. Whilst it is the case that some cut offs are better than others at identifying a ‘case’ of disorder, the  cut offs themselves vary from sample to sample depending on the prevalence of the disorder and are at best relevant to one disorder – in practise people usually have more than one disorder. IAPT essentially has two instruments the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 which they purport measure anything of significance, no medical/scientific professional would claim such powers for just two instruments.
  1. I am unsure whether the National Audit Office are aware of the paper by Griffith’s and Steen (2013) [Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) Programme: Scrutinising IAPT Cost Estimates To Support Effective Commissioning, The Journal of Psychological Therapies in Primary Care, 2, 142-156]. that suggest that the cost of IAPT therapy sessions is 3 times more than the Department of Health Impact Assessment estimates and this may lead to very different conclusions about the cost-effectiveness of IAPT. For ease of reference I attach a copy of this paper.
  2. How has the IAPT data set demonstrated that it offers added value over a) services as they existed before IAPT b) non-IAPT services in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? In the absence of such a demonstration it can be questioned whether IAPT overs value for money.
  1. It may be that one part of IAPT say high intensity therapy, is value for money but say low intensity (the most common modality) is not but no such analysis has been proferred. Why?


Dr Mike Scott