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Some mental health patients face waits of up to two years for psychological therapies, study reveals

Nine out of ten health providers keep no record of the length of time people experiencing serious mental health problems must wait before accessing psychological therapies, an investigation has revealed.
Talking therapies

Nine out of ten health providers keep no record of the length of time people experiencing serious mental health problems must wait before accessing psychological therapies, an investigation has revealed.

  • 183 clinical commissioning groups and 47 NHS mental health trusts in England responded
  • 22 trust had no records of waiting times

A collection and analysis of available data by the British Medical Association (BMA) found some patients in England are waiting up to two years to get the treatment they need.

The doctors' union is using the findings of its study to call for true parity of esteem between physical and mental health services in terms of funding and standards, and an NHS-wide audit of psychological therapies for patients with

Nine out of ten health providers keep no record of the length of time people experiencing serious mental health problems must wait before accessing psychological therapies, an investigation has revealed.

  • 183 clinical commissioning groups and 47 NHS mental health trusts in England responded
  • 22 trust had no records of waiting times
Talking therapies
People with mental health problems are spending months on medication, while waiting for
treatments such as talking therapies. Picture: iStock

A collection and analysis of available data by the British Medical Association (BMA) found some patients in England are waiting up to two years to get the treatment they need.

The doctors' union is using the findings of its study to call for true parity of esteem between physical and mental health services in terms of funding and standards, and an NHS-wide audit of psychological therapies for patients with the most severe conditions.

Shortage of specialists and mental health nurses

Meanwhile, the RCN said the problem of waiting times is compounded by a shortage of specialist therapists and nurses and mental health nurses.

A total of 183 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and 47 NHS mental health trusts responded to Freedom of Information requests from the BMA.

Of the CCGs, 166 replied they had no records of waiting times for dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), family therapy or dynamic psychotherapy.

For mental health trusts, 22 trusts had no records of waiting times.

Of the trusts and CCGs which did keep records, 3,700 patients waited more than six months for talking therapies, while year-long waits were revealed at two thirds of the providers.

Regional variation included patients waiting up for two years in Leicestershire.

Too long on medication without benefit of therapies

Health Education England’s Stepping Forward to 2020/21: the Mental Health Workforce Plan for England report of July 2017, set an objective of psychological therapies services seeing 1.5 million people a year by 2020, with 75% accessing care within six weeks and 95% within 18 weeks.

Commenting on the findings, RCN professional lead on mental health Catherine Gamble said: ‘Evidence shows that it’s a combination of medication and talking therapies that is most helpful to people with serious mental health problems.

‘However, the findings of the BMA’s Freedom of Information request show that in too many cases, people with mental health problems are spending months on medication without having the benefit of therapies like CBT.

‘The fact that we have significant shortages of specialist therapists and specialist nurses compounds the problem – the NHS is currently short of almost 10,000 mental health nurses.

‘We need to tap into their expertise – they’re the largest profession in the nursing workforce – particularly given that rates of serious mental illness are rising.’

Nicola Mattocks: 'angry' at the waits people face to get help they need

The BMA also conducted a video interview with mental health nursing student Nicola Mattocks, who began self-harming at 14 and took overdoses of medication on almost a weekly basis.


Watch: Waiting Games


She said: 'I had to wait 18 months for DBT and when I finally got it it was really useful, I made a book of what I could do when I felt a certain way.

'At 18 I had a relapse, but I had to go right to the back of the waiting list again.

'Sometimes it feels like a fight I'm never going to win.

'It makes me really angry to know there's so many people out there waiting to get the help they need, the cost of waiting is immeasurable.'

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