Hundreds of people in Wales wait more than a year for help with their mental health
Hundreds of people across Wales are waiting more than a year to access psychological therapies on the NHS, according to a major new report from Mind Cymru.
The report, Too Long To Wait, revealed that between April 2019 and August 2020 thousands of people were left waiting for more than half a year to receive specialist psychological therapies. During that time, hundreds more waited more than 12 months.
Welsh Government aims for 80% of people to access specialist psychological therapies within six months of a referral. Between April 2019 and August 2020, that target was never achieved.
Sara Moseley, Director of Mind Cymru, said: “This report shows clearly that people all over Wales are still too often having to wait an unacceptably long time for the right kind of help with their mental health.
“We clearly heard from people that accessing specialist psychological therapies can be life changing. The importance is acknowledged with improving access to these services being a key commitment of the Welsh Government’s ten year Together for Mental Health strategy. Unfortunately what we are seeing here is that, although some progress has been made, it is clear that people still struggle to access this support.
“There has rarely been a more crucial time to prioritise mental health, and a renewed focus and approach is urgently needed to help people when they need it most.
Coronavirus has had a significant impact on waiting times, when comparing the figures for August 2020, to the same period the previous year, we found that while the number of people waiting to start specialist psychological therapies fell significantly from 7,198 to 5,208, waiting times increased:
• The number of people waiting longer than 26 weeks increased by 4%, from 2,146 to 2,228
• The number of people waiting longer than a year increased by 17%, from 729 to 852
• The percentage of people waiting less than 26 weeks to start therapy fell from 70% to 57%
Sara Moseley added: “Being able to access help and support for your mental health is absolutely crucial in terms of getting well, and staying well. When you are having problems with your mental health, you need support quickly. To be told you have to wait for more than six months is very concerning and can lead to your mental health getting worse.
“It is important that Welsh Government acts quickly to improve access to the right sort of psychological therapies that have been proved to work. This includes making sure that staff on the front line have the support they need to deliver for people. We note and welcome indications that the Mental Health Minister is now providing a determined focus on delivery. We are confident that, with renewed urgency, significant reductions to waiting times and access to the right help at the right time is not only possible but can create a step-change in the support provided to those of us with mental health problems.”
As part of this report, Mind Cymru spoke to 88 people who had received, requested or been on a waiting list for specialist psychological therapies on the NHS in Wales in the last three years. Just over half of those people told us they were offered a referral for specialist psychological therapies with the remainder having to request a referral. Half told us they were offered both medication and a referral for specialist psychological therapy, in line with UK-wide NICE guidelines.
Of those who went to their GP to discuss their mental health, only half of people told us they were offered a further assessment of their needs by Local Primary Mental Health Support Services, and less than one in three told us they were offered a choice in the type of psychological therapy they could receive.
More than half told us they received no explanation of the different types of therapy they could receive.
Chloe Cross, who lives in Cardiff, has been on the waiting list for psychological therapy since February 2018. She said: “I went to my GP in 2018 when I was 24, because I was struggling with my mental health. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t want to eat, and I was self harming. I was finding things really tough. The GP prescribed anti-depressants for me and told me I would be given an urgent referral for therapy. I was told the waiting time would be six months.
“I still haven’t been seen, and I haven’t even been given a date for when counselling might be able to start. While I’ve been waiting my mental health got worse, to the point where I was self harming constantly and having suicidal thoughts, and I have been back to my GP a number of times asking for more help.
“Having been referred, and having the goal of therapy, was something for me to wait for and work towards at first. But after a while it became something that I focused in on whenever I was low, thinking I was so unworthy that I even wasn’t worthy of the help that was out there for me even though they knew I was a risk to myself.
“My GP has been very understanding but unfortunately there is nothing she can do, other than increase my dose of medication, which didn’t help at all. She has suggested I get therapy privately if I don’t want to wait, but it’s very expensive and it isn’t really an option for me at the moment.
“It’s unbelievable that I’ve been waiting for three years and counting. When you go to your GP and ask for help, that help should be available. I understand that things can’t always happen straight away, but waiting for this long is not good enough.”