1 in 10 wait a year for mental health treatment

Extended waiting times can cause patients further suffering. Picture: Gareth Easton

Extended waiting times can cause patients further suffering. Picture: Gareth Easton

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ONE in ten mentally ill patients are being forced to wait more than a year for counselling, amid claims excessive delays are making the problem worse.

The Scottish Government has told NHS Lothian that by December everybody who needs psychological therapies – for conditions which include eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder – must be seen and receive treatment within 18 weeks.

But new figures revealed they are way off that target with more than a third of patients spending more than three months on the waiting list for treatment. And mental health charities have warned that delays are having a devastating effect on patients.

The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) said urgent action was needed to bring the treatment of ­mental health patients in line with government targets.

Jo Anderson, director of external affairs, said: “Scotland is one of the few countries in the world with waiting times targets for psychological therapies, and this is a very welcome innovation.

“However, with less than six months to go until the target is due to be met, we need urgent action from all health boards to ensure it will be achieved.

“Every day SAMH sees the benefits for people getting the right treatment at the right time. Long waits can make an existing mental health problem worse.”

Each year, one in four people in Scotland will experience a mental health problem with evidence suggesting many patients end up paying for some therapies because the NHS waiting lists are too long. Of the 552 patients referred by GPs and other health professionals between January and March, 229 were not seen within the time limits – with ten per cent waiting more than 11 months – nearly double the wait time in Glasgow.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said it was unacceptable.

He said: “People are rightly being urged to seek help, or encourage others to open up about difficulties they may be having. But all this will be a waste of time if the staff and the services aren’t in place to make this happen.”

Jim Forrest, joint director of the West Lothian health and social care partnership, apologised to patients who were waiting longer than they should, adding steps were being taken to improve waiting times. “We have recently allocated additional funding for more frontline staff,” he said.

“Their first priority will be to see those patients who have waited the longest and at the same time we are introducing a number of other improvements including more ­flexible booking for patients and ­clinics later in the day to make our services more accessible for patients.”