NHS cuts: Half of mental health patients wait over three months for treatment

Spending cuts are biting into NHS waiting times for mental health patients, a group of charities has warned.

Twelve per cent of people with mental health problems found themselves forced to wait over a year before receiving talking treatments, the We Need To Talk coalition found.

It follows budget cuts and a reduced capacity for the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme originally introduced in 2007.

A survey of over 1,600 people who attempted to seek talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy found 54% had to wait over three months before receiving treatment.

Labour said the research's findings were "shocking and deplorable".

"It's just not good enough that over half of patients are having to wait three months or more," shadow health minister Luciana Berger said.

"We urgently need genuine parity of esteem between mental and physical health.

"That's why Labour has pledged to rewrite the NHS Constitution to give people the right to talking therapies for mental illness in the same way they already have the right to access drugs and treatments for physical illness."

Three in five people said they had not been offered the choice of therapy they would have preferred, the survey found.

Mental health charity Mind's chief executive Paul Farmer acknowledged waiting times had improved recently following an influx of cash for the IAPT programme following a raised profile for mental health in parliament.

"However, it is far from acceptable that in some parts of the country people are still waiting over a year to access treatment," Farmer said.

"This must urgently be addressed if the government's commitment to parity between physical and mental health care is to be realised."

The £450 million investment in the IAPT programme means more people than ever are getting access to the right kind of treatment, care and support minister Norman Lamb pointed out.

"Due to its initial success, demand has increased and this has led to increased waiting times in some parts of the country," he said.

"We want people to get access to treatment quickly. We have asked NHS England – the body which oversees the NHS – to introduce for the first time new waiting time and access standards for mental health services from 2015."

Campaigners remain impatient, however, as research shows extending mental health treatments to all those with depression could give the economy a £1 billion boost.

"We've got to be much more welcoming and relaxed, because if you're unwell it's so much easier to get better if you're not frightened and worrying about things," Tory MP Charles Walker, who admitted to the Commons he suffers from mental health problems last year, told Politics.co.uk.

"We need to create a stable, warm, loving environment for people with mental health problems so they can focus on themselves, and not worry about what we all think."

Earlier this month the Department for Health updated NHS England's objectives for mental health, telling it to put mental health on a par with physical health over the next few years.

It also committed to introducing new waiting time and access standards for mental health services – but these will not be introduced until 2015.