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Psychological therapies staff in the NHS report alarming levels of depression and stress – their own

Findings from the British Psychological Society (BPS) and New Savoy staff wellbeing survey in 2015 show that 46 per cent of psychological professionals surveyed report depression. 49.5 per cent report feeling they are a failure. One quarter consider they now have a long-term, chronic condition, and 70 per cent say they are finding their jobs stressful.

All these findings are increased from 2014, with reported stress at work up by 12 per cent. Incidents of bullying and harassment had more than doubled. The overall picture is one of burnout, low morale and worrying levels of stress and depression in a key workforce that is responsible for improving the mental health of the public. Whilst the majority of respondents made negative comments about their work environment, 10 per cent of comments were more positive:

  • “Being target driven is the bane of our lives.”
  • “IAPT is a politically driven monster which does not cater for staff feedback/input in any way. All we are told is TARGETS!!! and work harder.”
  • “It is invigorating to work in a team where thoughtfulness, understanding, support & compassion are central to what we do, not seen as an optional extra or a luxury.”
  • “I am so disappointed I have just resigned.”
  • “I carry my resignation in my diary now as I feel that I’m on the verge of giving up battling.”

The results and analysis of the survey of over 1300 psychological professionals in the NHS will be presented today, Wednesday 9 February 2016, at the 9th Annual Psychological Therapies in the NHS conference.

From being one of the most attractive careers with high levels of satisfaction, the survey shows psychological therapists now have lower levels of job career satisfaction than other NHS staff, with poor employee engagement and loss of autonomy. This reflects a worrying trend. Last year the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies warned that “an NHS management culture of bullying and intimidation, [is] preventing us from openly raising our concerns, and undermining our clinical judgment”.

Common themes identified by our survey were a managerial fixation on targets, complained about by 41 per cent, and workplace environments creating stress and burnout, complained about by 38 per cent. Extra administrative demands, an increase in having to work unpaid hours and staff being prevented from providing adequate therapy due to resource cuts were other frequent themes.

Figures yet to be published by NHS England show some commissioners spend three times less per patient on therapy than others. Our document ‘The Case for a Charter for Psychological Wellbeing and Resilience in the NHS’ sets out why this is now becoming unsustainable.

Leading organisations in the mental health field are committing to support a collaborative effort to improve the wellbeing and resilience of psychological staff who deliver key services.

They include the mental health charities Mind and Rethink, together with mental health trusts the South London & Maudsley and Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trusts; the British Psychological Society, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the British Psychotherapy Foundation, the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies; leading third-sector providers Westminster Pastoral Foundation, the Tavistock Centre for Couples and Relationships, and the Anna Freud Centre; organisational research consultants and care quality bodies Quality of Working Life, the Tavistock Institute and the Care Quality Commission; digital provider Ieso and the UK’s major provider of employment and health support, Ingeus; the NHS in Greater Manchester and Greater Manchester Combined Authorities.

Today, we launch a Charter that aims to reset the balance. The findings of our survey call for urgent action. The Charter aims to reset the balance in the drive to improve access. It asks for a greater focus on support for staff wellbeing to sustain the impact we know psychological services have when delivered effectively. Those services which have good staff wellbeing will be more sustainable and make the most difference to those they are helping.