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Exposed: national crisis in access to depression services

A major Pulse investigation this week exposes shocking details of a crisis in access to services for treating depression.

Separate surveys of 170 primary care organisations and 1,300 GPs reveal a lottery in provision of psychological therapies and 'appalling' waiting times across the UK.

Almost all GPs are forced to prescribe antidepressants against guidelines because they are unwilling to see patients languish on waiting lists.

PCOs admitted to average waits for adult patients of over three months for assessment and treatment in primary care, and over eight months for secondary care.

But these figures hide stark variations, with waits of a few weeks in some PCOs and up to three years in others.

The range of services provided also varies hugely with patchy access to therapies, group work and exercise referral. Some 22 per cent of PCOs

offer no cognitive behaviour therapy at all in primary care ­ with the longer, secondary care waits applying to all patients.

The investigation, conducted in collaboration with professional group Primary Care Mental Health and Education (Primhe), found problems were particularly acute for child-ren's services, with waits of more than five months for child psychiatrists.

Some 78 per cent of GPs told Pulse they were dissatisfied or strongly dissatisfied with their local services.

A startling 93 per cent said they had been forced to prescribe antidepressants against NICE guidelines because of a lack of available alternatives.

Dr Claire Brock, a GP in Penrith, Cumbria, said: 'We're being told to refer people for CBT but we don't have access to this service. It's completely unavailable and access to depression services is poor.'

Dr David Spiers, a GP in Exmouth, Devon, said local access to talking therapies was 'appalling'.

He added: 'We have no choice but to prescribe antidepressants for anybody who is feeling low because they are just not going to get any sort of psychological help in a reasonable timeframe.'

Dr Chris Manning, chief executive of Primhe, demanded Government action.

He said: 'The figures clearly show guidelines cannot make a difference without service reconfiguration and investment.'

Professor Tony Kendrick, professor of primary medical care at the University of Southampton and a part-time GP in the city, said: 'There are lots of delays in assessment and treatment.

'PCOs do not prioritise mental health. There should be better provision of CBT by proper therapists who are properly trained.'

Dr David Jenner, NHS Alliance GMS contract lead and a GP in Cullompton, Devon, said: 'A third of PCTs are in deficit. I think the Government will say it's up to PCTs to commission, but the only way to make it happen would be to make it a key target.'

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