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Improving online access to therapy services

By Rosalyn Hewitt.  16 May 2018.

Screenshot of the 'moodzone' online tool


We’re currently exploring what people with mild to moderate anxiety and depression need to be able to easily access the Improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT) service on the website

We have three goals:

  • make it clear you can refer yourself to IAPT
  • make it easy to self-refer
  • let people know what to expect

We’re currently designing and testing prototype pages with users to help us understand how we can meet these goals. We conducted research with website users as part of a discovery phase and we’re now using this in the alpha phase which includes designing and testing prototypes. Our research focussed on finding out what people with mild to moderate anxiety and depression needed. We tested with website users the existing NHS Choices pages that cover Improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT)

Research focus

IAPT is a national programme to increase the availability of free psychological therapies on the NHS to people who have mild to moderate mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. The IAPT programme aims to implement National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance for a range of psychological therapies including guided self-help books, online CBT and counselling for depression.

Our testing revealed there are some issues with the existing ‘user journey’ on NHS Choices:

  • it isn’t always clear what the services are or what types of therapies are offered
  • there’s missing data on waiting times and recovery targets
  • some users find pages cluttered and confusing
  • it isn’t clear that you can self-refer – even users who have had IAPT therapy in the past are not aware of this
  • users are given a false choice through being shown a high number of IAPTs in the search results, many of which they won’t be able to access

There are a number of issues arising from the research that we’re addressing. For example, most people don’t know what IAPT is. People who have used IAPT services said they expected one-on-one counselling and were surprised to be referred to group Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or to receive a book. We are also exploring what people understand by the term psychological therapies. We also know from our research that most people aren’t aware that it is possible to refer yourself to IAPT without having to see a GP. A further goal, therefore, is to let people know that they can choose to refer themselves without seeing their GP.

GP search

In order to access IAPT, you must be registered with a GP and the location of this GP determines the services you’re eligible for. The current search for IAPT services on NHS Choices searches by distance from postcode or location entered. This means that users currently see a list of services which that aren’t eligible for, which could lead to them contacting, or referring themselves to, the wrong service. We’re therefore testing prototypes that help people find the correct list of services. This involves asking users to enter the name of their GP surgery instead of their home postcode. Some people also find waiting times a barrier. So, we’re exploring how to inform people that there’ll be a wait – and to better equip them to prepare for their assessment during this period. This could include signposting them to self-help resources they can access before their assessment.

Our goal is to help people understand the different types of therapies offered by IAPT and that the therapy choice is decided at the assessment. Giving people this information, before they refer themselves, means that we are helping them to make informed choices about how they manage their mental health. If you’ve had experience of IAPT services, either as a user or part of delivery services, and you’d like to take part in our research we’d love to hear from you

Last edited: 10 September 2018 3:00 pm