Quarter of mental health patients waiting more than 12 weeks to start treatment

Nearly a quarter of mental health patients (23%) wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment, with many so desperate they turn to A&E or dial 999, a royal college has warned.

Data from the Royal College of Psychiatrists based on 535 adults with mental illness found 43% said the waits for treatment led to their mental health getting worse.

The college said many people face a “hidden wait time” for starting treatment, with no publicly available data on how long people wait from their initial referral to actually starting treatment.

Those surveyed for the research had a range of mental illnesses, including eating disorders, addiction, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression.

Patients whose mental health deteriorated said it had led to financial problems such as debt, struggles with work resulting in job loss, as well as relationship difficulties, including divorce and family breakdown.

A significant proportion end up so desperate for help that they turn to A&E or ring 999 or NHS 111, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said.

It is calling for a year-on-year increase of medical school places from 7,000 to 15,000 by 2028/29 and a fully-funded workforce strategy to tackle staff shortages.

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.

“If we don’t train more doctors by increasing medical school places, waits will keep getting longer, especially in underfunded specialties like psychiatry.

“Government needs to take responsibility for the fact that without decisive action on workforce, it’s denying patients timely access to lifesaving treatment.”

Claire, which is not her real name, 45, from south London, has been in and out of 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 10 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.”

It comes as separate research for the charity Mind found 40% of 16 to 24-year-olds say they do not have the words to share how they are feeling when struggling with their mental health.

Most (91%) said they turned to creative outlets like listening to music or spoken word to help them cope with their feelings.

Mind has launched a new film with singer-songwriter Lola Young to use poetry to bring a young adult’s mental health story to life and encourage people to get support.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Mental wellbeing is a priority for the government and we will invest an additional £2.3 billion per year into mental health services by 2024 – giving two million more people the help they need.

“As laid out in Our Plan for Patients, we will improve the availability of mental health support for all ages – including access to NHS talking therapies and strengthening support in schools – so that people can get the care they need, when they need it.”

“We’ve also set out the need for the mental health workforce to grow by over 27,000 by 2024.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA.