New data shows that seven out of 10 people are waiting longer than a month between therapy sessions for mental health conditions, a delays that campaigners can raise risk of severe illness or even suicide.
Seven out of 10 people undergoing psychological therapy in Preston are waiting longer than a month between treatment appointments, according to NHS figures.
Mental health campaigners say that this is too long to wait – and best practice guidelines advise that psychological therapies should be delivered on a weekly or fortnightly basis.
In May, around 155 of the 220 people who had a second treatment session in the Greater Preston clinical commissioning group (CCG) waited more than a month between appointments - a rate of 70 per cent.
Around 50 waited more than three months between their first and second appointment – 23 per cent of the total.
Mental health charity Mind has called the figures “worrying”.
As part of its Improved Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) programme, NHS targets state that 75 per cent of service users should have their first treatment appointment within six weeks of referral, and 95 per cent within 18 weeks – there is no target for second appointments.
In the Greater Preston CCG, 96.6 per cent of the 295 people having their first appointment in May waited less than six , and 98.3 per cent waited less than 18 weeks.
By these measures, the Greater Preston CCG has far exceeded these targets.
Mind’s senior policy and campaigns officer Emily Waller said: “Because of the targets, all the emphasis is on the wait for the first appointment, and not on the subsequent appointments.
“These figures highlight the fact that some talking therapies aren’t being delivered in the best way possible.
“Although targets for accessing the first appointment are being met, this data shows that there are still long waits between sessions in parts of the country.
“This makes it more likely for people using the service to become more unwell, or disengage with the service altogether.”
The IAPT programme aims to improve the delivery of therapy services across a range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress.
Guidelines state that it is not good practice to delay a course of treatment for an extended period of time after the initial appointment.
The manual says that “services should guard against hidden waits within a course of treatment.”
Ms Waller said: “It’s really important to make sure that once people enter into treatment, that treatment is regular and consistent.”
An NHS England spokesperson said that the agreed waiting time targets for referral to first treatment have been met.
Nationally, 90 per cent of people waited less than 6 weeks to start treatment, and 99 per cent of people waited less than 18 weeks.
Mind has said that the targets set by the NHS are not ambitious enough, and has called for people to be seen within 28 days, instead of six weeks.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) expressed concerns that the IAPT workforce has not been sufficiently expanded to deal with the demand for the service.
A BACP spokesperson said: “It is vital that talking therapies are available as and when they are required.
“The right support at the right time can improve long term effects on self esteem and reduce the chance of continued mental health issues.”
A spokesman for Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are working hard to ensure that people needing access to psychological therapy are seen as quickly as possible.
“To enable this to happen, we have a plan in place to which we are presently working hard on to ensure these waiting times are quickly reduced.
“This includes recruitment of staff and providing alternatives to face-to-face therapy such as our online therapy sessions and group therapy courses that have short waiting times. We are also currently implementing a service redesign that we hope will also help narrow the gap between appointments.”
A spokesman for Greater Preston Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “Mental health is just as important as physical health, and we are committed to ensuring that patients receive the treatment that they need in a timely manner.
“We are working closely with Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services in our area, as they deliver improvements to services for the benefit of our residents.”
Cost of sending patients out of county
Lancashire’s mental health trust has spent millions of pounds sending patients up to hundreds of miles away for treatment when there were no beds for them locally.
Figures from the NHS show that between June 2017 and May 2018, the Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust placed patients with acute mental health needs in inappropriate Out of Area Placements on approximately 245 occasions.
The mental health charity Mind says the impact of being far away from home on a patient’s mental health “cannot be overstated” and could even increase the risk of suicide.
Some of the patients sent away by the Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust had to travel more than 180 miles to places as far as Sussex, Darlington and Bristol.
The trust racked up a bill of around £4,790,000 over the 12 months to May paying for the care of patients on inappropriate placements, including the cost of additional ongoing placements that began prior to June 2017.
In May, the majority of the facilities that received patients from the trust were privately operated.