Three in 10 NHS Herts Valleys therapy patients wait over six weeks for first treatment
Three in 10 people referred for talking therapy in the Herts Valleys area are waiting over six weeks for their first treatment.
NHS England data reveals that of the 1,375 people who received their first psychological therapy treatment in the NHS Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group area in January, just 70 per cent had been treated within six weeks of their original assessment.
The situation was worse than in January last year, when 84 per cent of 1,090 people received their first treatment within a six-week period.
Under the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, 75 per cent of people referred should access treatment within six weeks of their assessment, and 95 per cent within 18 weeks. .
In the Herts Valleys, only 90 people had been waiting longer than 18 weeks when they received their first treatment in January this year, meaning 93 per cent were seen within this timeframe.
Mental health charity Mind said patients across the country faced "unacceptably" lengthy waits for treatment before the coronavirus outbreak, and warned that social distancing measures have led to a fall in referrals.
Psychological therapy involves clinical support for adults suffering with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
Geoff Heyes, from Mind, said: "Nobody should have to wait longer than 28 days to access the support they deserve.
"We know that many people were still waiting an unacceptably long time to access talking therapies before coronavirus and that there is a huge need for mental health support at the moment.
“However, we are also hearing that the impact of coronavirus on NHS talking therapies has been a reduction in the number of referrals. In some places this reduction has been significant."
Mr Heyes said the drop could be for several reasons, including discomfort around digital therapy or guilt about asking for help from the NHS during the outbreak.
He added: "We would encourage anyone who feels they need mental health support to make an appointment with their GP or refer themselves to talking therapies via IAPT.
"It is vital that the coronavirus pandemic is understood as a mental health crisis, as well as a physical health crisis."
A NHS Herts Valleys spokesperson said: “We put a high priority on access to talking therapies (IAPT) and the numbers of people accessing these therapies in west Hertfordshire has been increasing over a number of years.
“We’re putting a lot of investment in this area and are working with Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT), who provide mental health services locally, to make sure that capacity is in place to support the higher numbers of patients.
"Nationally verified data showed that throughout 2019, performance on waiting times in west Hertfordshire met the national targets.
“The latest NHS England data for January 2020 shows that we are meeting our target - 75% of people referred did access treatment within six weeks of their assessment.
“We support Mind in encouraging anyone who feels they need mental health support to make an appointment with their GP or refer themselves to talking therapies.
"Since the Covid-19 outbreak there’s been a nationwide drop in numbers of people accessing talking therapies.
"NHS services are still available for people who need them and we’d ask people in Hertfordshire who need support for their mental health to either contact their GP or HPFT’s mental health helpline: 0300 777 0707 which is available at any time of the day or night.
"More information is available on HPFT’s website: www.hpft.nhs.uk/get-help.”
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