HEALTH chiefs have been accused of neglecting mentally ill patients – after shock figures revealed vital treatment targets are being missed.
The Scottish Government has told NHS Lothian that by December everybody who needs psychological therapies – for conditions such as eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder – must be seen and receive treatment within 18 weeks, but today it has emerged performance has nose-dived.
By September last year, just 27 per cent of people were being seen within the time frame, leaving around 400 people who desperately need to see specialists in limbo.
And the health board, which is on course to spend at least £70 million over three years boosting its acute hospital capacity and sending thousands of people into the private sector for operations, has committed just £700,000 – one hundredth of that total – to increase the number of mental health patients it can treat this financial year.
And while performance in November is believed to have improved to 73 per cent, the most recent national statistics show that Lothian has become the worst-performing board in Scotland for providing access to psychological therapies, with just 15 per cent of Glasgow patients waiting more than 18 weeks, compared with more than seven in ten here.
Mike Crockart, Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP, slammed the health board and said its actions were at odds with the widely-held belief among experts that mental health conditions should be treated as seriously as physical injuries or diseases.
He said: “Too often, people are afraid to talk about their mental health, afraid to ask for help because of the fear of what their friends and family will think of them. This can often mean that the need for treatment can be acute at the point it is first seen by a GP. To find then that they are facing a four- to six-month wait for treatment must be a very scary and worrying prospect.
“There is simply no reason as to why sufferers, especially children, should have to wait over 26 weeks to receive the treatment they need and it is shocking that in September barely a quarter of patients referred for psychological therapies were seen within 18 weeks.”
Mr Crockart branded the £700,000 pledged by NHS Lothian as a “drop in the ocean” which came “nowhere near” the amount that was actually needed.
He added: “If NHS Lothian are as committed to treating mental and physical conditions as they have publicly stated, they need to provide meaningful levels of investment in mental health treatment to make sure that people are not left waiting for the help they so desperately need.”
In September, when 27 per cent of patients referred for psychological therapies were seen within 18 weeks, NHS Lothian had planned that 70 per cent would start treatment within the time frame as it works towards the new Scottish Government target.
Health bosses have admitted to seeing a “significant drop in performance against the target” and warned that “it is anticipated that performance against the target will remain similar in coming months”.
NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison has accepted that there is “no doubt” that more cash will be needed to improve access to services, with a review into the issue under way.
Mental health charity SANE has recently launched its Black Dog campaign in the Capital, aimed at raising awareness of conditions and encouraging those affected to seek help.
NHS Lothian has also struggled to treat patients referred to its Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service fast enough, with the region’s youngsters facing some of the longest delays in Scotland and has seen the number of referrals snowball by 63 per cent since 2009.
SANE chief executive Marjorie Wallace said: “The lack of timely access to talking therapies in the Lothians, and in many other parts of the UK, is a cause for deep concern.”
Linda Irvine, NHS Lothian’s strategic programme manager for mental health, accepted that more people were waiting longer than they should have to access mental health services and said bosses were working hard to address the issue.
She said: “We have allocated additional new investment of over £700,000 in our mental health services. This investment will help us to improve access and ensure more people are seen within 18 weeks.”
Help arrived too late for tragic Lindsay
LINDSAY Weddell began to struggle with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder aged 14, before developing anorexia.
The eating disorder would eventually claim her life in 2004, when she was 20.
The health service’s care of the Currie youngster was strongly criticised by the Scottish Government Ombudsman.
Her mum, Louise, 53, today spoke of the devastating impact waiting times can have on patients who need treatments for mental illness.
She said: “It’s very disappointing. These are serious illnesses and need to be treated promptly. What is a patient supposed to do for 18 weeks?
“She was just languishing and by the time she did get help it was too late.”