A New Horizon: AP in IAPT
For the development of the Assistant Practitioner (AP) in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) based in Greater Manchester.
There has never been a more important and exciting time to work in mental health. This is why I am developing the new role of Assistant Practitioner (AP) in Improving Access into Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services. It will encourage people to look at this initiative and create enthusiasm within the IAPT Network towards maximising workforce resources. In essence, we are looking to widen participation so that we can diversify our workforce in representing the communities they serve and make a more positive impact on patient care.
About the Role
The AP role was initially introduced within the North West in 2002 as a transformative approach to workforce development. The AP role enables organisations to develop their existing unregistered workforce across a range of health and social care settings by creating a more succinct, modern and contemporary workforce structure. Although the role was successfully implemented in the physical health sector, difficulties were encountered when attempting to implement this structure within Mental Health services; apparently due to a general lack of awareness of the role and a cultural caution about new ways of working.
In contrast, the IAPT framework has led the way in pushing forward a radical and innovative programme of workforce transformation. This has resulted in unprecedented investment in the mental health workforce over recent years. However, IAPT services still face significant sustainability challenges, including recruitment and retention of the individuals that work for them.
The project is looking to introduce a new role into IAPT in order to create more opportunities for people to be involved in the mental health sector. The role will also help 'shift down' agreed responsibilities, and thus create capacity for existing staff to deliver what they have been uniquely trained to do. The project will also support services to invest in 'growing their own' through the utilisation of the Apprenticeship Framework Scheme via new Levy arrangements. We will look to develop a 'starter pack' to provide guidance to IAPT services on how to best implement the AP role into the workforce, and to provide project support to those currently working in IAPT towards developing a more flexible service responsive to patient needs.
Timeline of Developments
In September 2016, I was introduced to Clare Baguley Programme Manager from the Psychological Professions Network as part of a 'Randomized coffee trial' between colleagues from different departments across Health and Social Care. The intention was to talk about our individual roles, whilst exchanging ideas and initiatives in our relevant service areas. The conversation turned out to be a vibrant and passionate exchange on how to develop a new role within IAPT, and thus introducing the idea of how APs could enhance service delivery.
Following on from this initial meeting and a coming together of relevant circumstances, I was seconded in early September 2017 to be the project manager for AP in IAPT by: overseeing the continuous development of the training programme; undertaking a mid-point evaluation process of the pilot project; chairing an expert reference group and assisting with the development of a common job description for the role, clearly aligned to AP competences and complimenting the existing IAPT workforce.
During 2017/18, the project team supporting a small number of pilot sites across the Greater Manchester region has ensured that the AP role has become firmly embedded into service delivery and team structure. The support role has enabled IAPT teams to work towards improving key performance indicators of access, waiting times and clinical outcomes, while the trainees have been working towards providing support in key areas in service, attributed to a Level 4 Practitioner.
Looking to the Future
Moving forward in 2018, the project team have met with interested partners and stakeholders across the North West, to discuss the development of the role across other sites and are looking to assess the transferability to other relevant service areas. Working together with the Psychological Professions Network the project team and the pilot sites, we have achieved the successful development of core themes related to a job description for the role. We are now looking to expand the project and demand for the role across the North West/North regions
The enthusiasm already shown towards the AP role across the IAPT pilot sites demonstrates we need to invest in local talent and diversify our recruitment process. This will help provide more opportunities for careers in Mental Health Services in the future, and we believe that the AP in IAPT route will enable this.