The next government must make access to psychological therapies a priority as mental health services are currently unable to cope with rising demand, says a coalition.
We Need To Talk coalition, a mental health charity, undertook the investigation and revealed a huge variation in waiting times across the country.
NHS Oxfordshire stated that the majority of patients were seen within 28 days, while other CCGs reported up to 90% waited longer.
Chair of the We Need to Talk coalition and chief executive of mental health charity Mind, Paul Farmer believes people are “facing unacceptably long waits”.
He said: “Our investigation shows that providers, frontline staff and those who use services are all united in the view that mental health services aren’t currently set up to cope with demand. We know that in some parts of the country investment in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) and other models has transformed lives as people have been able to access the help they need when they need it. But far too many are facing unacceptably long waits or are struggling to even get a referral. This simply isn’t good enough.”
“At the same time as people are waiting for psychological therapies, prescriptions for antidepressants rise and rise and we have seen mental health services struggle to cope with the demand for beds and other crisis services.”
In the last quarter of 2013/14 several CCGs had fewer than 100 new referrals for psychological talking therapies, while others had up to 5,400 in the same period.
The coalition surveyed more than 2,000 people who have tried to access therapy in the last two years and found that 9.6% are waiting more than one year between referral and assessment, while 41% waited more than three months.
The study showed that 67% of people felt that had become more mentally unwell while waiting for referral.
Furthermore, 40% harmed themselves, 67% experienced suicidal thoughts and 16% attempted suicide while on the waiting list.
The survey indicated the extra strain on other services as a result, with 6% of people waiting for therapy voluntarily admitted to hospital, 3% compulsorily admitted under the Mental Health Act and 7% had come into contact with the police as a result of their mental health.
The Government’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which began in 2007, has helped more patients access approved psychological therapies.
Despite investment into IAPT, progress has been patchy and much is need to improve support and help for people with mental health problems.
Deputy chief executive for the Centre for Mental Health, Andy Bell said: “Some 4.6 million people in England have both a long-term health condition and a mental health problem at the same time. This puts them at risk of poorer quality of life and of dying sooner. It also costs the NHS some £10 billion in extra healthcare. Offering evidence-based psychological therapies to people with long-term conditions as part of a better integrated approach to care could help to improve their health and reduce costs. The IAPT programme is finding ways to do this and it is vital that this work is sustained and expanded nationally so that no one misses out on the support they need when they need it.”
A joint survey of over 650 NHS therapists by the British Psychoanalytic Society (BPC) and the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) showed 57% of therapists had an increase in waiting times over the last year and 62% reported shorter courses of treatment.
Moreover, 77% therapists said they were seeing patients with more complex needs.
Chief executive of the British Psycoanalytical Council, Gary Federay said: “We Need to Talk’s investigation shows that if you happen to be among the millions of people who experience mental illness and need urgent psychological therapy, it is highly likely that you will not receive appropriate or adequate therapy. Moreover, it demonstrates that you have a high chance of waiting for an unacceptably long time for treatment and even that your health may deteriorate further. Although investment in IAPT has changed people’s lives, the state of current provision is unacceptable and would be considered scandalous if we were talking about physical health services. This is why the British Psychoanalytic Council joins with We Need to Talk partners in urgently calling for the NHS to provide the full range of evidence based psychological therapies to anyone who needs them within 28 days of asking for help.”
As result of these findings, more patients are seeking help through private services, with the We Need to Talk survey discovered 24% of people who tried to access NHS paying for therapy, in comparison to 11% in 2013.
The BPC and UKCP study surveyed 600 private therapists and found that 89% said they had patients come to them because they are unable to access NHS services.
Chief executive of UK Council for Psychotherapy, David Pink believes that with regards to mental health services “NHS is not delivering”.
He went onto say: “Many NHS psychotherapy posts have been cut, clients are forced into long waits and thousands more are simply turned away. At the same, antidepressant prescriptions continue to rise and rise. This is a national scandal.
“While the NHS flounders, private therapy is the lifeline keeping many afloat. But private therapy is only available to those who can afford to pay.
“The next government must consider how to use this highly trained therapy workforce to ensure the NHS meets its founding commitment: that all can access support based on clinical need and not on the ability to pay.”
Chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Jenny Edwards CBE said: “The effectiveness of evidence based psychological therapies is proven. Despite the clear case for timely access people have to wait far too long, even up to a year before they start to receive help. This is costly to the health of the people waiting and has an impact on many aspects of their lives – their work, relationships and ability to cope. People have a right to expect parity in how they are treated whether their ill health is mental or physical.
“Early intervention is common sense and will help people avoid ending up in crisis, with risking harm to themselves and high costs to health services. People from black and minority ethnic communities, people in later life and young people must not be left behind in the drive to provide psychological therapies so we can reduce health inequalities.”
The We Need to Talk study brought together data sets from Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), therapists and service users.