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Hundreds waiting too long for mental health therapy in Bucks

Mental health / Help / hands

Published by Charlotte Fisher at 2:18pm 18th April 2019.

Hundreds of people in Buckinghamshire waited over three months for NHS psychological therapy, figures reveal.

Mental health charity Mind called the figures worrying, and warned that excessive waits between sessions can impact recovery from mental health conditions.

NHS Digital data shows:

  • 310 people in the Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group area waited longer than three months for a second therapy appointment, February 2018 and January 2019
  • That's 5% of the patients who had their second treatment session over the 12 months
  • A further 1,740 waited between 28 and 90 days, meaning more than a third of people having NHS therapy in Buckinghamshire faced these "hidden waits" of over a month between appointments.

NHS guidance says "services should guard against hidden waits within a course of treatment", although there is no official target for second appointments.

Geoff Heyes, head of health policy at Mind, said:

"We find it really worrying that people are facing such long waits between their first and second therapy appointments, meaning they are more likely to become more unwell before their next session.

"Long gaps also impact your ability to build a relationship with your therapist, and worrying that you've not been offered regular enough appointments can have a hugely detrimental impact on recovery.

"National guidance is clear that people should not have to wait an excessive time between the first and second appointment, so local services should be striving to give people timely support."

NHS England's Improved Access to Psychological Therapy programme aims to improve therapy services for a range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress.

Targets state that 75% of people in the programme should have their first treatment appointment within six weeks of referral, and 95% within 18 weeks.

In Buckinghamshire, 8,255 people had their first therapy session over the 12-month period, and 98.9% of them were in treatment within six weeks of being referred, while 99.9% were seen within 18 weeks.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, which co-authored the guidance for the IAPT programme, said it was pleased that targets were being met, but acknowledged that improvements were needed.

Dr Billy Boland, vice chair of the general adult psychiatry faculty, said:

"Clearly, more work needs to be done to improve waiting times for follow up appointments. The quicker these are, the better outcomes there will be for patients.

"For it to be a true success, IAPT needs to improve its offer as a whole, and not just focus on the initial access. It should be continuously improving."

An NHS England spokesperson said:

“As Mind and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have acknowledged, the widely agreed waiting time targets for referral to first treatment for psychological therapies have not just consistently been met but also exceeded the national standards - there is also an unprecedented level of transparency when it comes to all IAPT data, meaning that none of the waits are in fact ‘hidden’.

“In the past year alone IAPT has had over one million people referred for care and most importantly has helped hundreds of thousands of people to overcome their depression and anxiety, and better manage their mental health.”

A spokesperson from Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust said:

""Buckinghamshire Healthy Minds is recognised as one of the best Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services in England, with people in Buckinghamshire getting help sooner and benefiting from higher recovery rates than elsewhere in the country. 98.9 per cent of people have their first appointment within six weeks.

"Over 11,000 people sought help from Healthy Minds in 2018-9, a thousand more than the year before. The service aims to start people in treatment as soon as possible but with increasing demand the numbers waiting to start treatment have increased in the past year. Every effort is being made to reduce waiting times while maintaining high quality treatment.

"In addition to providing evidence based psychological therapies for people with depression, anxiety and stress the service now offers help for people struggling with the management of long term health conditions including diabetes, cardiac and respiratory conditions. This year we have also expanded our employment support service for people in work, off sick or wanting to return to work.

"With our NHS service commissioners in Buckinghamshire we are continuing to develop mental healthcare for people of all ages across the county, contributing to a mental health transformation board to best meet the needs of local people, and continuing to improve crisis, perinatal and children's care including the trailblazer scheme which will see two dedicated mental health support teams in schools supporting about 16,000 local children."

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