Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) for people with learning disabilities

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IAPT was set up in 2008 and aims to improve people’s access to psychological therapies through increasing the provision of evidence-based treatments for people experiencing anxiety and depression in England. Each clinical commissioning group in England has an IAPT service.

People with learning disabilities and mental health problems

People with learning disabilities are far more likely to develop mental health problems, with estimates around 40%. Work by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities has challenged the assumption that people with learning disabilities are ‘unable to benefit’ from therapies as a treatment for mental health conditions.

Our work

The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, funded by the Department of Health, ran a project developing innovative approaches to address barriers to accessing IAPT services.

Our work brought together IAPT teams and Community Teams for people with a Learning disability (CTLD) and used action learning set methodology to help them develop ways of working together to improve access for people with learning disabilities.

Some of the reasonable adjustments to their clinical practice that supported people with learning disabilities to take part in talking therapies included:

  • setting up a flagging system at the referral stage to alert practitioners that the person referred has literacy difficulties or a learning disability so that they may be required to make reasonable adjustments
  • the development of pathways to direct someone presenting with depression or anxiety person to the most appropriate service. Some people may be seen by both
  • being given time to develop visual and other easy read resources
  • teams worked together to make easy read information flyers and appointment letters and others have developed training modules for the IAPT staff
  • involving family members in therapy and in homework tasks.

Our guide for IAPT practitioners

As part of this programme we wrote the second edition of the Positive Practice Guide for learning disabilities which is aimed at IAPT practitioners.

The guide is informed by the three-year programme run by FPLD in partnership with King's College London and Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and funded by the Department of Health. It is aimed at those who work in, commission, or refer to the IAPT services.

It provides useful information regarding how best to support people with learning disabilities to access their local IAPT service, including numerous practical examples of how to make reasonable adjustments to achieve this.

Our work with Kings College, London

Researchers from Kings College London worked with us to look at the barriers experienced by people with learning disabilities in accessing IAPT services. They sent out a survey to IAPT and community teams for learning disabilities (CTLD) and found that IAPT services work best for people with learning disabilities when:

  • both teams have developed good working relationships and can co-ordinate their input
  • some IAPT staff, who have prior experience of the needs of people with learning disabilities, are adapting their materials and their work practices for this client group.

As part of this work, King's College London and the Foundation have produced a report outlining how people with learning disabilities currently use IAPT. There is also an easy-read executive summary of this report.

For further information please contact Christine-Koulla Burke on cburke@mentalhealth.org.uk.

Read the positive practice guide