People in Greater Manchester waiting months between NHS therapy sessions for mental health conditions

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Exclusive analysis of NHS data also shows which health bodies in the city-region are missing targets to get people into a first appointment within six weeks of a referral.

People seeking help with mental health conditions including depression and anxiety face long waits between their NHS therapy sessions, data shows.

Exclusive analysis of NHS statistics by our sister title NationalWorld has taken a look at the Improved Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme for adults across England, which provides talking therapies to people with common mental health conditions.

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The analysis shows that in Greater Manchester some patients were having to wait more than 90 days between their first and second appointments in the first half of 2022. In addition, some health bodies in the city-region are failing to meet the target that 75% of people who gets referred for IAPT has their first appointment with a therapist within six weeks.

Health organisations and charities say mental health services are struggling to cope with a combination of budget cuts and increased demand, and that the Covid-19 pandemic has added to their workloads and the pressures they face.

What does the data show for Greater Manchester?

The data shows that between January and June 2022 hundreds of people at clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) across Greater Manchester were having to wait more than three months for a follow-up therapy session following their initial one.

At NHS Stockport CCG 705 people, just over half of the 1,390 who had a second session of IAPT, had to wait more than 90 days. At NHS Bury CCG 505 people had to wait more than three months, or 40.1% of people who had a second appointment, while at Tameside and Glossop exactly one in three people having more than one session faced a 90-day wait between their first and second.

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At NHS Bolton CCG, NHS Manchester CCG and NHS Oldham CCG almost one in four people having a second therapy session had to wait more than 90 days after their first for it, while at NHS Salford CCG the percentage of people on the IAPT programme for multiple appointments waiting that long was 16.8%.

The data shows that thousands of people on the programme were having to wait more than 28 days for a second appointment with a talking therapist.

NationalWorld’s analysis also looked at how many people were getting to see a therapist within six weeks of a referral in June 2022. Health bodies are supposed to meet a target of getting 75% of those referred for IAPT sessions into a first appointment within that time frame.

Of the Greater Manchester health organisations NHS Bury CCG had the worst figures for that month, with just 38% of IAPT referrals getting to a first appointment within six weeks. The CCGs in Salford (53%), and Oldham (62%) also fell short of the 75% target.

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What has been said about the data?

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said: “Psychological therapies are an important part of treatment, and early intervention is vital. It remains deeply concerning that patients still appear to be facing these ‘hidden waits’.

“Waiting is hard when you are struggling mentally and excessive delays between the first and second appointment for a particular therapy may leave some people more at risk than they were before. It is worrying that there is such variation in waiting times across the country.

“Patients in desperate need may become far more seriously ill. We know that many simply give up on treatment or deteriorate further while waiting for it to commence. This may trigger a patient into self-harm or increase the risk they become suicidal.

“Psychological services are struggling under the dual weight of tightening budgets and increasing demand, leaving too many people without the help they need.”

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Louise Ansari, national director at Healthwatch England, said: "Mental health services are under massive strain right now, and despite increased investment in recent years, the pandemic has resulted in unprecedented levels of demand for support.

“Sadly, it is all too common for Healthwatch teams across the country to hear from people having to wait many months at each stage of the pathway, often with little communication about what is happening. This leaves them feeling in limbo and struggling to self-manage their condition. And when they are finally able to access support, it is not always the right sort of help or is time-limited only.

“For some these delays are difficult, for others can be dangerous. Patients in crisis report to us that services seem oversubscribed, particularly community services, which could have helped prevent circumstances escalating in the first place.”

ManchesterWorld has contacted Greater Manchester health organisations and Healthwatch groups for comment.

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