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Mental health services are unable to cope with demand for psychological therapies, according to an investigation by the We Need to Talk coalition. The coalition, which includes Mind, says that huge variations in referral rates and waiting times around the country are unacceptable and are making people more unwell. It is calling on the next government to make access to talking therapies an immediate priority after the election.
An analysis by the coalition of the latest Health and Social Care Information Centre data from CCGs shows enormous variation in both referrals and waiting times across England. In the last quarter of 2013/14, several CCGs report fewer than 100 new referrals for talking treatments, such as CBT, counselling and group therapy, while others report up to 5,400 in the same period.
The We Need to Talk coalition surveyed over 2,000 people who have tried to access therapy in the last two years. It reveals that one in ten (9.6 per cent) are waiting over a year between referral and assessment, while four in ten (41 per cent) wait more than three months. Once assessed, most people start therapy within three months, yet a third (32 per cent) wait longer.
While waiting, two thirds (67 per cent) feel they have become more mentally unwell. Four in ten (40 per cent) have harmed themselves, two thirds (67 per cent) have experienced suicidal thoughts and one in six (16 per cent) attempted suicide.
A joint survey of over 650 NHS therapists by the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) and the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) suggests that despite investment in IAPT, the situation in many areas is getting worse as other psychotherapy services are being cut back. More than half (57 per cent) of therapists report an increase in waiting times over the last year and two thirds (62 per cent) report shorter courses of treatment. Almost four out of five (77 per cent) say they are seeing people with more complex needs coming through their doors.
Paul Farmer, Chair of the We Need to Talk coalition and Chief Executive of mental health charity Mind, 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 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.
“All three main political parties have been in power in the time we have had IAPT, so we know the commitment is there but we have yet to see the ambitions of the programme made a reality on the ground. Whoever forms our next government must redouble their efforts and make this a priority, ensuring fair access and establishing waiting times targets so that no matter where you live, you can get the help you need when you need it. We are calling on them to ensure the NHS in England offers a full range of evidence-based psychological therapies to everyone who needs them within 28 days of requesting a referral.”
The We Need to Talk coalition is made up of:
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
British Psychoanalytic Council
British Psychological Society
Centre for Mental Health
National Counselling Society
Rethink Mental Illness
Royal College of General Practitioners
Royal College of Psychiatrists
St Mungo’s Broadway
Mental Health Foundation
MQ: Transforming Mental Health
Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships
United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy