Long waiting times for psychological therapies harmful, says mental health report
Posted Thursday 24 July 2008
Mental Health Foundation...Mind...Rethink...Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health...YoungMinds
A group of leading mental health charities has today published a report which says that the lives of those stuck on long NHS waiting lists for psychological treatments are being damaged as a result. Mental health problems can worsen, relationships can break down and some people are forced to take time off from work - or give up a job completely - according to While we are waiting.
National clinical guidelines recommend that psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and psychotherapy, should be made available on the NHS. But such therapies remain difficult to access and the wait for patients is long - often more than six months, sometimes years.
One participant who took part in the report's research said: "The assessment was incredible...I felt that someone finally understood. When I was told that the wait after assessment was two years it felt like a real let down, offering a life line and [then] snatching it away."
The report comes ahead of the roll out of the Government's Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which is expected to bring 3,600 extra therapists to half of England's primary care trusts (PCTs) in the next three years and to reduce waiting times in those areas dramatically.
While we are waiting says that unless the Government requires all PCTs to publish data about how long it takes for patients to get treatment, inequalities in access to talking therapies will continue.
The report says that psychological therapy can not only improve an individual's mental health but also a person's ability to manage family life, relationships, a job or an ongoing physical illness.
One participant with a long-term condition explained: "Since having multiple sclerosis I cannot cope with what life throws at me. Counselling for me is as essential as food, breathing, water, the lot."
While we are waiting recommends that:
- PCTs aim to meet the IAPT programme's aspiration that psychological therapy is available when needed urgently, within 3-10 days.
- The NHS communicates to patients about the different kinds of psychological treatments on offer to ensure that they get access to the right therapy for their problem.
- Therapy services need to be flexible, offering weekend and evening appointments for those who work during the day.
- Therapy services should be sensitive and accessible to children and young people, and delivered by experts in children's mental health.
Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Andrew McCulloch, said: "It takes a huge amount of courage to ask for help for a mental health problem. It is vital that those who need psychological therapy get it as early as possible because the consequences of having to wait can impact terribly on a person's life. Some people find themselves out of work and unable to maintain relationships with family members and friends - and to get back on track can be really difficult to do."
Emily Wooster, Policy Officer at Mind, said: "People are still struggling to access a choice of treatments, still waiting months and even years for urgently needed support, and still watching their lives deteriorate while they are stuck on waiting lists. When you are facing an urgent need for any health treatment, waiting weeks or even days can seem like too long. The government needs to hold Primary Care Trusts to account on this issue."
Paul Jenkins, Chief Executive of Rethink, said: "Long waiting times for psychological therapies are completely unacceptable so the extra therapists the government is bringing in is a step in the right direction. However, PCTs must ensure easy access to these therapies by people with a severe mental illness who tend to find it extremely difficult to get this kind of treatment as well as by those with a condition from the milder end of the mental health spectrum. NICE has approved a range of psychological therapies as appropriate treatment for severe mental illness - they reduce both the time spent in hospital and the likelihood of relapses. With both these things costing more in the long run than appropriate treatment PCTs would do well to take this on board."
Chief Executive of Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, Angela Greatley, said: "Psychological therapies can make a huge difference to people's lives. We applaud the Government's efforts to speed up access to effective treatment. It is now up to PCTs across the country to ensure they make provision for all people who need psychological therapies to receive them in a timely manner."
Chief Executive of YoungMinds, Sarah Brennan, said: "Everyone including children and young people should have the option to take up psychological therapies without having to wait. NICE guidelines already promote the use of talking therapies as an alternative to medication. However to make the therapeutic relationship a success and improve mental health outcomes the government needs to ensure adequate training and provision and ensure practitioners are able to engage with children and young people. Services must also be accessible to all users to provide a true choice."
The Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Rethink, The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health and YoungMinds are members of the We Need to Talk coalition, which campaigns to increase investment in and widen access to psychological therapies on the NHS. Visit www.weneedtotalk.org.uk for more information.
Notes to Editors
For a copy of the While we are waiting report or to arrange interviews with a charity spokesperson or case study, contact the Mental Health Foundation's press office on 020 7803 1130 / 1128. Out of hours mobile telephone number is 07967 586489.
The While we are waiting report includes the opinions of 75 people who have waited for psychological therapies on the NHS. It is free and available to download below:
While we are waiting (PDF file, 1.6MB)