New proposals from the NHS aim to shorten the wait times for individuals seeking mental health support have been welcomed by some, but some practitioners claim that the wait is still too long, and unable to keep up with public demand.
The Problems That Began Long Before The Pandemic
In a recent article by Private Practice Hub we highlighted that over the course of the pandemic there has been a rise in the number of people in need of mental health support, paired with a lack of referrals to counselling and therapy by GPs, but the increasing need for therapy across the UK has been growing for quite some time.
The NHS has recorded an increase in demand for mental health services since 2016, with the 12-month average of the total number of people waiting for aid rising from 3.50 million in September 2016 to 4.34 million by the end of 2019.
In spite of this increase in demand, there was a fall in the monthly rolling average for completed admitted pathways and referrals – 304,000 per month went down to 294,000 in the same period of time.
Of course, since 2019 and over the course of the pandemic a 30% fall in new referral-to-treatment (RTT) pathways has been recorded in 2020, meaning that in spite of this increased demand for therapists, fewer people were being referred for counselling or therapy.
The NHS has announced a new set of goals to combat this, however.
What Are The New Goals?
NHS England has said that they are putting new standards in place on top of already existing measures to improve access to mental health. With aims that 75% of people referred to the Improving Access To Psychology Therapies (IAPT) programme should begin treatment within six weeks of referral, and 95% of people referred should begin treatment within 18 weeks.
The new targets set by the NHS (and to be agreed upon after further consultation) will mean that:
- People who end up in A&E in a mental health crisis will receive face-to-face care within an hour of arrival.
- Anyone referred urgently to community-based mental health services because their psychological health has worsened will help within 24 hours.
- Minors along with their parent or carers in need of mental health support should receive help within four weeks of referral.
In addition to this, the proposals could also ensure that patients requiring urgent care will be seen by community mental health crisis teams within 24 hours of referral, with the most urgent cases getting help within 4 hours.
For most, the reaction has been positive:
“These proposed new standards for community and liaison mental health services are an important step to delivering parity of esteem for mental illness. Access standards can make a real difference for patients by providing a clear set of priorities for services and commissioners.” Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has said.
“Many thousands of people will be left with long term impacts from this period, whether because of bereavement, unemployment, trauma or the weathering effect of life during lockdown. Knowing that the NHS is committed to timely access to support could make all the difference as we emerge from the pandemic and plan for the future.” Says Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind.
However, Some Feel That The Goals Are Not Enough:
Dr Benjamin McKechnie penned a scathing open letter in The Guardian, slamming the targets as “virtue signalling” and altogether useless for improving mental health care unless backed by funding.
“Mental health beds are down 25% since 2010, and this is mirrored by similar cuts elsewhere in mental health services. In a system already nearing breaking point, does NHS England really believe that our inability to see patients in good time is down to a lack of targets, rather than resource and staffing shortages?”
Not knocking the intent of the new targets, McKechnie writes that the goal itself is not the problem, but the inevitability of the emergency departments expected to provide these services.
“Parity of esteem for mental health with physical health is a fantastic goal to strive for, but the proposed target for “people who end up in A&E in a mental health crisis to receive face-to-face care within an hour” is not only unrealistic, it’s also dangerous,” he continues. “At best, this is another target that our overstretched emergency departments will fail to meet. At worst, this creates a perverse incentive that will cause disability and deaths due to the prioritisation of acute mental health problems over immediately life-threatening conditions”
What are your thoughts? Start a discussion today by joining Private Practice Hub’s LinkedIn group, and sign up for our newsletter to be informed of more news within the world of therapy. Article written by Maisie Violet Wicks, BA Hons. Contact email@example.com to have your voice heard.