NHS fails on mental health targets as waiting list rises to 1.2 million

NHS fails on mental health targets as waiting list rises to 1.2 million
‘We are now seeing the cumulative result of years of underfunding combined with overwhelming demand for mental health’ warns charity Mind

The number of people waiting for community mental health care has risen to 1.2 million as the NHS missed several targets for the sector, new data reveals.

The NHS England data found the figure for those waiting for a mental health follow-up appointment or learning disability service at the end of 2021-22 was up from 1.08 million at the end of quarter three.

The service also failed to meet its goal of getting 1.6 million patients into “talking therapy” services, also called IAPT, which are aimed at treating people with mild to moderate depression, with 1.2 million instead starting sessions last year.

Vicki Nash, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at mental health charity Mind, said: “We are now seeing the cumulative result of years of underfunding combined with overwhelming demand for statutory mental health support, particularly off the back of the pandemic.”

The new data on community waiting lists is now a key measure for NHS England in estimating the waiting list for mental health services. However, it is likely to be an undercount as it will not include those waiting for inpatient care and other services.

According to estimates from NHS Providers, last year around 8 million people did not meet thresholds to get help and so have been left unable to access care. The organisation, which represents hospitals in England, said in August there were 1.6 million people on official waiting lists.

IAPT was one of the flagship programmes in the 2016 NHS plan for mental health services. Although the provision of the service has expanded, the NHS failed to consistently hit targets for access and recovery rates for black and minority ethnic patients in the past year.

NHS targets on services for patients with psychosis to meet national quality standards were also not met in 2021-22, according to the data.

Brian Dow, deputy chief for Rethink Mental Illness said these early intervention services can be lifesaving as psychosis is extremely “debilitating”.

He added: “We know NHS mental health services are facing record levels of demand and staff are working flat-out as a creaking social care system, in urgent need of funding, struggles to offer any meaningful support. The next government urgently needs to invest in mental health and social care services to help them both meet the surge in demand and ensure that the system works together to ensure progress on these targets doesn’t slip backwards.”

NHS services across the country are also reporting huge increases in demand for children’s mental health services and in particular children’s eating disorder services.

Figures published on Thursday showed that as of May 2022, 689,379 children had accessed mental health services compared to 596,352 in May last year.

Commenting on the latest NHS stats, Ms Nash said: “The number of missed NHS mental health targets is the latest indication of how over-pressured and under-resourced our mental health services are right now. In addition, the cost-of-living crisis we’re facing will not only be hurting the nation’s wallets but negatively affecting our mental health too.

“Now more than ever, it is vital the UK government face the music and give mental health services the proper resources and support they need, starting by putting the long-awaited 1-year cross-Government mental health plan into place, alongside the funding our services need to bring down waiting times and support our country’s mental health.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “The pandemic has inevitably taken a toll on the nation’s mental health with many NHS services treating more people than ever before including for eating disorders, talking therapies and people with severe mental illness getting support in the community.

“Mental health services will receive an additional £2.3 billion annual investment by 2023/24, with community-based mental health care expanding to provide support for 370,000 adults with severe mental illnesses and an additional 345,000 children and young people.”