The NHS faces the ‘impossible task of tackling rising demand’ for mental health treatment

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  • One in four are being made to wait 12-weeks for treatment, according to new research.

    We’ve all heard about how the NHS has been stretched to breaking point, with staff shortages, budget cuts and the immense pressure of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. But, new research out today – to coincide with World Mental Health Day – shines a light on the waiting times for mental health treatment through the NHS.

    According to the release by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), almost a quarter of those surveyed were forced to wait more than 12 weeks to start mental health treatment. Some, they say, have turned to A&E or called 999 in desperation.

    The RCPsych also found that 43% of adults with mental illnesses said that the long wait times for treatment had resulted in their mental health declining. Those surveyed had a range of mental illnesses, including eating disorders, addiction, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression.

    Speaking about the findings, Dr Kate Lovett, the college’s presidential lead for recruitment, said:

    “We cannot sit idly by and watch the most vulnerable people in our society end up in crisis. Not only do spiralling mental health waiting times wreak havoc on patients’ lives, but they also leave NHS services with the impossible task of tackling rising demand.”

    In some cases (12%) waits can be longer than six months and for 6% of patients the wait has stretched to more than a year, according to the data.

    So, what’s causing these shockingly long wait times for treatment? The RCPsych blame it largely on “an insufficient mental health workforce, particularly when it comes to psychiatrists”, stressing the fact that there is currently just one consultant psychiatrist per 12,567 people in England.

    The college – which is the main professional organisation of psychiatrists in the UK – is calling for a fully funded workforce strategy and upping the number of medical school places in years to come.

    One 45-year-old female patient from South London, who shared her story as part of the research, had been to hospital 20 times over a decade with addiction and other mental health crises.

    She said: “I dropped out of university and moved back home when my mental health worsened, and I had to wait six to seven months to be referred to a community team.

    “The only other way to get help was to present to A&E, which was a traumatic experience – having to be reassessed and readmitted again and again. Turning up to A&E was the only way I could be seen regularly. No one should have to go through that.

    “What I experienced after I was discharged only made things worse. There is no help when you are discharged, and I found myself in this revolving door for ten years. I’m in a much better place, but services need to change so that people struggling with their mental health don’t have to wait so long to get help.”

    If you’re struggling and need support, the Samaritans helpline is available 24/7 by calling 116 123. 

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