"Hidden waits" drive mental health patients to emergency services

  • Date: 11 October 2022

MORE than three quarters of mental health patients waiting for NHS appointments have been forced to seek emergency support from A&E and other crisis services, new figures suggest.

Research from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) highlights issues around “hidden waiting lists”, with figures showing almost a quarter (23 per cent) of people who have received an initial referral have to wait more than 12 weeks to begin treatment.

A Savanta ComRes poll of 535 British adults diagnosed with a mental illness including eating disorders, addiction, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression, found that long waiting times had damaging effects on patients’ lives.

More than three quarters (78 per cent) of those in a so-called "hidden waiting list" said that they were forced to resort to emergency services or a crisis line in the absence of mental health support. Twelve per cent said they sought help at A&E, seven per cent called 999, 16 per cent contacted NHS 111, and 27 per cent phoned a crisis line.

Waits can be longer than six months for 12 per cent of cases, while six per cent of patients wait for more than a year.

Patients whose mental health deteriorated said it has led to financial problems such as debt, struggles with work resulting in job loss, as well as relationship difficulties, including divorce and family breakdown.

The RCP blamed the majority of long waiting times on under-staffing and called for medical school places to more than double over the next seven years, from 7,000 to 15,000 in 2028/29.

Dr Kate Lovett, RCP Presidential Lead for Recruitment, said: “Not only do spiralling mental health waiting times wreak havoc on patients’ lives, but they also leave NHS services with the impossible task of tackling rising demand.

“If we don’t train more doctors by increasing medical school places, waits will keep getting longer especially in underfunded specialties like psychiatry.

“Government needs to take responsibility for the fact that without decisive action on workforce, it’s denying patients timely access to lifesaving treatment.”

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