Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) – bringing in the service perspective

Ursula James became the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme manager in June and she explains what a great opportunity it has been to look at what NHSE England does with a ‘service hat’ on after moving from a clinical role.

Thanks to my experience, I understand that delivery is often fast paced, with little time to keep eye on what is happening in other services, or to share innovation and good practice. From time spent in my new role I understand that providing great service and good care takes time. And it is from both perspectives that I want to share with you just how much fantastic work is going on in IAPT services across the country.

As we know IAPT services are reported on quite intensively – there are national standards for access, recovery and waiting times and providers work hard to meet these. Reporting helps us to see where good practice is happening. It has also helped us understand who is using IAPT services. For example, we can see that older adults are under-represented – but also that when they do use IAPT services, this group tends to demonstrate greater recovery rates, while some BME groups fall short of the national average for recovery.

An important part of my role involves getting out and about to attend regional clinical network meetings and forums which take place right across the country. They promote shared learning and quality improvement, and bring together services and commissioners to look at what they are good at, what needs improving and what they can learn from others. Importantly the networks can help prevent individual services working in isolation.

At one network meeting I listened to a service describe the process they had undertaken to improve their recovery rates and reduce waiting times. People in the room echoed similar experiences and also talked about mapping these approaches onto other services. In addition, many clinical networks hold regular CPD events for local clinicians, which have sub-groups who collaborate to develop training requirements.

Networks are full of dedicated staff with expertise. I recently attended an event put on by two clinical networks. They arranged external speakers and research colleagues focused on the PWP workforce. This was really well attended, really useful and such a great way to celebrate our fantastic workforce.

We have an ambitious target of 50% recovery rates in IAPT. We’re doing well but we’re not there yet; one of the big reasons why its’s so important to look, listen and share good practice wherever you can.

Early implementer funding will help. The first wave of 22 early implementers will be treating people’s mental health problems from within physical health pathways from January. Meanwhile this week we launched thebidding process for Wave 2 of the funding. Applications must be submitted by 18 January 2017.

We have also been able to offer some funding for regions to do quality improvement in services or at a regional level. We are keen for services to map and develop pathways for peri/postnatal women in IAPT and to make more improvements to recovery rates. Improving recovery rates is also a key area of focus.

Whatever ground we still have to cover, we mustn’t forget that this is a hugely exciting time for IAPT services. This is particularly notable in treating long term physical health issues, depression and anxiety disorders in the context of the whole person.

We’re constantly looking for ways we can support services, clinicians and clinical networks.

  1. Invite us to your meetings. By coming along to clinical network meetings we hear and share what’s happening and we can learn how best to support you.
  2. Join us on Yammer. This is a forum ideal for chatting, asking questions and sharing with your IAPT peers. We have recently set up groups for Clinical Networks and services and providers – so anyone involved in IAPT provision can join. (Yammer is a bit like Facebook but more secure, professional, and less pictures of what we’ve had for dinner!)

If you have something to share, want to join us on Yammer, or need some support, contact us at

Individually you are great, together we can be amazing!

Ursula James

Ursula James joined the IAPT Programme in NHS England in June 2016 and has an extensive background in mental health, having trained as a nurse in 1991. She worked in acute mental health care for many years and completed extensive training in therapy before moving into IAPT services in 2009.

Ursula has worked as a Clinical Lead and IAPT Service Manager focusing on quality improvement and, before joining NHS England, was the regional Recovery Lead for the South West IAPT Clinical Network.

Ursula works on national policy developments of the IAPT programme, most notably this year has been the expansion into integrated IAPT services into physical health pathways, and is a specialist clinical advisor for the CQC.

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  1. Emma says:

    Hi ï have been diagnosed with ptsd and am currently receiving therapy but have been told that I can only have blocks of 15 weeks then have to be Re referred and wait again is this normal

    • NHS England says:

      Hi Emma

      Thanks for your comment. Please check this advice with your doctor. They should be able to confirm whether this is correct.


      NHS England

    • NHS England says:

      Hi Emma

      We’ve had further advice from the IAPT team as follows:

      Thank you for your comment and sorry to hear about this situation. This is not what we would expect to happen and we would recommend, in the first instance, taking this issue to your local provider via their complaints procedures or to the local Clinical Commissioning Group as this will need to be resolved locally. IAPT services offer evidence based treatments recommended via NICE guidance, and we would not advocate session numbers being capped without a clear clinical rationale.

      NHS England IAPT Team

  2. Karen Little says:

    Do you still run the couples with depression IAPTS course in the north west UK?

  3. Pauline Smith says:

    Just missed the Wave 2 IAPT webinar is there going to be another one?