Audit of Secondary Care Psychological Therapies Fails Clients

The National Clinical Audit of Anxiety and Depression (NCAAD) has just been published https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/members/your-monthly-enewsletter/january-2020-enewsletter/anxiety-and-depression-report?dm_i=3S89,13323,2H3J22,3SCFB,1 but it is impossible to gauge from it what proportion of those with anxiety or depression recovered with psychological treatment. There was no reliable methodology employed to determine what constituted a ‘case’ of anxiety or depression and there was no independent evaluation of outcome. 

No evidence is provided that psychological therapy made a real world difference to client’s lives.  The authors reported that 75% of service users agreed that their therapy helped them to cope with their difficulties, with 88% agreeing they were treated with empathy, dignity and kindness.  The average number of treatment sessions attended was 13. Having made such a time investment clients  are unlikely to be critical of the service they received particularly, as was usually the case, the therapist was judged a nice person. 

The report opines that 65% of service users were receiving a type of therapy in line with NICE Guidance for their disorder. But given that diagnostic status was not reliably determined there can be no certainty that an appropriate NICE protocol was used. There is nothing in the report to indicate that treatment records were reviewed (or capable of review) in such a way as to determine matching treatment targets, strategies and disorder. This makes one sceptical of the authors claim that the main intervention was CBT, it is alleged CBT. With just over a half completing the planned number of sessions. With a further 1 in 3 people receiving a type of treatment that was not NICE compliant even by the standards of the authors of the report.  

The authors call for an increased use of psychometric tests (no test was used in more than 15% of cases) and a reduction of waiting times (almost half waited over 18 weeks). Doubtless these are laudable aims but of themselves are unlikely to make any real world difference to client’s lives.

There is a legitimation of current practice, with implicit claims for more funding and better training, all horribly reminiscent of the failed IAPT service.  The National Audit Office needs to not only re-ignite its’ inquiry into IAPT but also determine whether secondary care psychological therapy is value for money – the NCAAD provides no evidence of the latter.

Dr Mike Scott