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Adding value to health in Scotland: Big contributions from a small training programme for health psychologists.

Scotland’s health

Scotland is a small, beautiful country with some big health problems.  For radical improvement we need to understand and change big (environmental, socio-economic, individual lifestyles) causes of poor health.


Changing health behaviours is a crucial part of the Scottish Government’s strategy to improve population health and wellbeing. Health psychologists are experts in delivering interventions to improve and maintain health, providing professional skills and competencies in research, consultancy, and teaching and training for individuals, groups, communities and populations.


NES and the THP Programme

NHS Education for Scotland (NES) is a Specialist Board responsible for education and training of NHS staff.  Since 2007/8 NES has jointly funded (with NHS Health Boards) two year full-time training posts for health psychologists in the Scottish NHS. Trainees follow the British Psychological Society (BPS) Independent Route.   The aim is to add value to existing workstreams, applying psychological theories, research evidence and skills. Over thirty-five trainees have undertaken this programme and now work in areas of public health, health research, psychology services or academia.


How are trainees recruited?

Health Boards in Scotland submit bids for a trainee, based on Local Delivery Plans, reflecting government health improvement targets. Bids are independently assessed and trainees recruited to posts based on successful bids. Post bandings are equivalent to other applied psychology trainees (AfC Band 6). 

Trainee Support

Trainees undertake supervised practice, with support from a NES Course Tutor, an academic Research Supervisor, and their NHS line manager in public health and/or psychology as appropriate. NES also provides centralised curriculum support for each competence set.

Because it’s a small profession, peer support is crucial for health psychology trainees. NES supports regular group network meetings for everyone involved in the programme, a shared digital space on NHS Knowledge Network, and informal trainee meetings. 

Big contributions..

This is a unique programme, showcasing how a psychology approach can add value to public health and well-being.  We know of no other government funded programme specifically for health psychology professional practice, in the UK or internationally.

Trainees have contributed to maternal and infant health, drug and alcohol, sexual health and BBV services; healthy eating, weight management and physical activity; older adults services, including frailty and dementia; physical health in mental health; and long-term conditions.  They have achieved positive health outcomes for service-users, trained multidisciplinary healthcare staff, and disseminated high quality outputs – including training, local audits and reports, national and international conference presentations, publishing many high quality peer-reviewed articles.

Via the THP programme, NHS stakeholders benefit from interactions with colleagues in health, social care and elsewhere.   Links between public health and psychological services within Boards, and external University-based supervisors are developed and maintained,  fostering effective  longer-term working relationships and knowledge sharing.

..and challenges

This programme has achieved much in a challenging economic climate, but sustaining and up-scaling these benefits for the NHS is difficult without permanent posts where qualified health psychologists can continue to build services. Using our approach across the UK could help to develop these sustainable collaborations, making a big contribution to people’s health.   

Dr Vivien Swanson, Psychology Division, School of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling