Patients facing ‘unacceptable’ waits of over a year for mental health care, charities warn

Coalition of charities and professional bodies calls for NHS to introduce 28-day waiting time for therapy

More than one in ten people seeking talking therapies for mental health issues are faced to wait over a year before getting treatment, a coalition of mental health charities and professionals has warned.

Over half (54%) of those who tried to access talking therapies faced delays of over three months, a survey of 1,600 people by the We Need to Talk Coalition found. The group, made up of several organisations including the charity Mind and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, warned that lengthy delays accessing care can have a “devastating” impact on people’s mental health.

Three in five people (58%) said they weren’t offered a choice in the type of therapy they received. The coalition is calling on NHS England to offer a “full-range” of evidence-based psychological therapies to “all who need them” within 28 days of requesting a referral.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said government investment in the Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) programme had led to some “encouraging improvements” but care was still falling short in many areas.

“It is far from acceptable that in some parts of the country people are still waiting over a year to access treatment. This must urgently be addressed if the Government’s commitment to parity between physical and mental health care is to be realised,” said Farmer.

Last month, the government told the NHS in England to introduce national access standards for mental health care by 2015 but details of what services will be covered have still to be announced.

Norman Lamb, the care and support minister, said waiting times at some IAPT services had increased due to rising demand triggered by the programme’s success.

“We want people to get access to treatment quickly,” said Lamb. “We have asked NHS England – the body which oversees the NHS – to introduce for the first time new waiting time and access standards for mental health services from 2015.”

In October, an investigation by Community Care and BBC News revealed widespread problems in people accessing crisis care and inpatient mental health services.

is Community Care’s community editor

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