ALTHOUGH unacceptable, long-standing issues over big NHS waiting lists for much-needed physical treatment are very well documented.

For those unfortunate enough to need treatment the message has long been simple. Due to ever-increasing demand and less resource, they have to wait.

It is never an easy situation for any patient, but a new report has now highlighted how for those awaiting treatment for mental health conditions, such a delay can be very harmful – and in some cases potentially fatal.

In a survey of 2,000 patients by the We Need to Talk coalition – which focuses on referrals for treatment under the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme – one in 10 was said to be waiting more than a year just to be assessed for treatment, and one in six made an attempt on their life whilst on a waiting list.

Four in 10 said they had self-harmed, and two thirds said their condition had deteriorated before they had a chance to see a mental health professional.

It has led to Paul Farmer, chief executive of the charity Mind, calling on the next Government to make mental health a priority by introducing waiting times targets for mental health. He wants a full range of psychological therapies to be available within 28 days of referral.

As medical negligence specialists, we at Neil Hudgell Solicitors deal with many cases of hospital neglect, ranging from errors during actual procedures to poor organisation causing unnecessary delay, pain and extra discomfort for patients.

However, this report has quite rightly highlighted that true, quality care for all patients, starts much earlier in the process, and should come under much greater scrutiny going forward.

Services under the IAPT programme include talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling, which are predominantly for patients suffering with anxiety and depression, providing vital early intervention which is intended to prevent a crisis, such as a suicide attempt, further down the line.

They are a lifeline – as important as surgery – yet whilst most NHS areas saw between 1,000 and 3,000 IAPT referrals in the last quarter of 2013/14, in some areas there were fewer than 100, suggesting many patients are not being referred for the help they need. There was also significant variation in the length of time patients had to wait for specialist treatment.

Questions need to be asked as to why this is happening, and what impact it is having?

Mr Farmer said this was not acceptable, and it is hard to disagree. It shows that we should never consider healthcare – and the quality of it – to simply be that which we receive once in a doctor’s surgery, or once on a hospital ward.

Quality healthcare means giving people the appropriate treatment as quickly as possible to hopefully improve their condition, or at least prevent it from deteriorating – whether they be suffering from either physical,  or mental conditions.



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