The NHS Talking Therapies programme (previously known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) was developed in 2008 to improve the delivery of psychological therapies for depression and anxiety disorders within the NHS. Last week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a report detailing the experiences of men accessing the programme from prison.
We welcome this report’s insights into the treatment of common mental health struggles that many in custody unfortunately find themselves struggling to deal with. With 37% of our residents struggling with mental health, and 29% coming from an offending background, we at Tyne Housing have a good understanding of some of the struggles that come with a lack of timely access to the right services.
How services are commissioned influences how they are delivered, and we feel our Westbridge service is an excellent example of intentional, joint working to provide people with the right service, at the right time, with a clear plan for progression beyond the service.
On average, 83% of our residents have a positive move on from our Westbridge service to supported or independent living in the community. This is largely due to the unique partnership between Tyne Housing’s team and Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust Community Mental Health Team.
The two teams work collaboratively together – including joint assessments and weekly multi-disciplinary team meetings. Each team brings their own specialities to Westbridge, offering a wide range of support to help people leaving secure mental health hospitals or prisons to integrate back into the community. Planning for this starts for each person, well before release, and a bespoke plan is made for each person. Gradual integration is encouraged to help a ‘soft landing’ and therapeutic support is continued throughout the transition.
A large proportion of people in custody have vulnerabilities and sometimes complex needs – people who would highly benefit from the NHS Talking Therapies offer. Without adequate services to help those in prison understand and begin to combat their mental health struggles, integrating back into the community can be incredibly difficult. Moreover, unless that support continues to be available on release back in the community, many people will struggle to see the benefits of it.
From this ONS report, we can see that the NHS Talking Therapies program has had a significant positive impact in prisons, as 70% of the people who underwent treatment were identified as making a reliable improvement. This is good news, but unfortunately, this statistic doesn’t quite paint the full picture. As stated in the report: “The prisoners in the NHS Talking Therapies population used for this research come from the limited number of prisons in England that offer NHS Talking Therapies, and therefore these results are not representative of the wider prisoner population in England.”
One of the biggest failings of our criminal justice system is the difficulty in accessing continuity of care from custody to the community, and we’d like to see the government make this a statutory requirement of health providers and the secure estate to ensure that this happens.