'Two-year wait' for mental health help in areas of England

Image source, Getty Creative Stock

Mental health patients are having to wait for up to two years for treatment in parts of England, figures suggest.

Government guidelines call for psychological therapy to start within six weeks for 75% of referrals, rising to 95% within 18 weeks.

But a Freedom of Information request by BBC Radio 4's World At One suggested a third of NHS trusts missed deadlines.

The Department of Health said it was overseeing a large expansion of services but there was "more to do".

Just over half of England's NHS trusts replied to the request - 29 in total.

The replies suggested that in some parts of the country, more than 20% of people were waiting for more than 18 weeks.

But at five trusts, an adult patient was recorded waiting more than two years to begin specialist treatment.

That could mean waiting for help with conditions such as eating disorders, personality disorders, or cognitive behavioural therapy.

And in two trusts, patients seeking help for gender identity issues had a one in 20 chance of being seen within 18 weeks.

'Something has to change'

Image source, Andrea Wade
Image caption,
Ms Wade has still not been seen in the NHS

Andrea Wade, 24, is from Blackpool and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when she was 11 years old.

In August 2017, her mental health started to decline after her nephew died when he was just 14 hours old.

But despite being referred to specialist mental health services, she was told she would need to wait six months to see a psychiatrist.

"I knew that I would need preventative care and some support to get through that so I didn't end up in relapse," she said. "I was referred twice to a psychiatrist, but I was told I would get no help until February."

She began to get her symptoms back, feeling very anxious, isolated and scared that something bad was going to happen. Now, she has also started to get fresh symptoms.

"I have a lot of paranoia," said Ms Wade. "I don't feel safe a lot of the time and I don't know who to trust. I have found I have locked myself in my own room because I am so frightened."

However, a local GP told her that there were "plenty of poorly people in Blackpool" and until she made an attempt on her own life, she would not be seen.

She has now had to pay £400 to get a private appointment two hours away from her home.

"For me, I think this is terrifying," said Ms Wade. "Something has to change."

A statement from the Department of Health said: "It was this government that set up the first waiting times for mental health, but we know there is much more to do.

"[This] is why we are undertaking one of the largest expansions of mental health services in Europe, supported by a record £11.6bn pounds of investment in services this year."

However, former Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb said the findings were "depressing and shocking".

He told the World at One programme he had threatened to resign to get the standards in place when he was part of the coalition government.

He added: "It just demonstrates why we need to make a reality of equality between mental health and physical health.

"The reality on the ground is very, very different. We see services under extraordinary stress across the country. If we carry on as we are, the system will slowly collapse and that is intolerable."