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How do we manage a lack of therapists in the NHS? Tech could be the answer

By Nicky Main, Adult Clinical Lead for Wysa



Mental health apps

With mental health cases in the UK on the rise, the need for trained professionals capable of dealing with the growing cases is more important than ever. While funding for mental health has been slow to respond to this increase, new methods are being looked into to breach the gap between demand and supply.

According to The King’s Fund think tank, mental health problems account for 23 per cent of the burden of disease in the UK, although spending on mental health accounts for only 14.8 per cent of the NHS budget in 2020-21.

This, says The British Medical Association, could lead to a chronic under-recruitment in psychiatric professions.

The UK Council for Psychotherapy put out a statement saying that more psychotherapists are needed in NHS workforce to meet UK’s looming mental health crisis.

In the past few years, the need for competent and professional services dealing with mental health has grown considerably.

Due to the dangers and damage of Covid since 2020, the World Health Organization has reported that cases of anxiety and depression has increased by 25 per cent globally.

This lack of adequate access to psychological therapists severely affects the patients’ quality of life and ability to cope with the ongoing mental strains.

More often than not, while the ambition is for people to be assessed and to engage in regular treatment within four weeks, the reality is that it can take up to eight months for certain types of therapy to be arranged and begun.

This delay often leads to worsening of cases and more assistance needed by the patient at this later date. This lack of access and ongoing delay doesn’t work for anyone – the person, the NHS, or society.

“Psychological therapies have rightly been placed at the heart of the NHS Long Term Plan, but patients will only see the benefit of increased access to evidence based, psychological treatment if there are trained psychologists available to administer it” says Sarb Bajwa, Chief Executive of the British Psychological Society.

In 2020/21, 1.46 million people were referred to IAPT, with 1.02 million entering treatment and 658,000 finishing a course of treatment.

With each contact costing on average £102.38 per contact (£102.38 for low intensity therapy, and £173.88 for high intensity therapy), the total cost to the NHS was more than £90m. Patients are being lost in the system, and it is costing money.

Mental health costs the economy £105bn a year.  At the moment, many services seem to be panicking and investing interim solutions that don’t always have evidence to back up their ability to help the patients.

What can be done?

Tech can play a bigger part in helping to guide people to resources which target their key symptoms whilst they remain on therapeutic waiting lists, as well as easing the pressure off therapists by supplementing clinical assessments and treatments with electronic triage and AI driven guided self-help interventions.

By redirecting funding into these solutions, more clinical staff time and energy can be focused on supporting those who need them.

The NHS is committed to doing the right thing for patients. And for many right now, that means finding innovative ways of increasing capacity within mental health services, in a person centred way that gives people access to what they need, when they need it.

Evidence based technological solutions are offering a new way to address the growing mental health burden.

Using early intervention apps for mental health, people are able to engage with and practice proven self-help techniques used to treat depression and anxiety when they need to, breaking negative cycles in a supportive, fun and safe environment.

A new generation of AI driven chat bots engage users in reflecting on their mental wellbeing and current aims and goals and recommends tools based on these conversations.

These tools are more than just a sticking plaster. They are written by clinical leads in psychology and mental health nursing and are underpinned by best clinical evidence such as CBT and mindfulness.

They can allow patients to access the care system faster, as well as releasing admin and clinical time, supporting improved access for patients.

Not only does this mean that patients are supported sooner, rather than having to wait for a therapist to be available, they also help free up administrative time taken in triaging and assessing patients, so that therapists can focus on what they do best – therapy.

Doing the right thing by patients also works for therapists.

It is certainly not about replacing therapists. It’s about finding a solution that addresses a growing need so everyone can benefit from the treatment they need, when they need it.


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