This site is intended for health professionals only

Only three in four mental health patients seen within 18-week referral target

Only three quarters of patients with mental health problems are receiving treatment within 18 weeks of being referred by a GP, compared to 95% of those with physical ailments, according to a new report.

Patients had to wait a median time of 48 days for their first outpatient assessment by a mental health specialist in 2012/13 – an increase from 35 days the year before – according to an analysis of data by the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation’s research programme Quality Watch.

This compared to 27 days for those wanting to see a physical health specialist, according to the report.

The figures come only a few days after NHS England announced new standards for 2015/16 which will see 95 per cent people referred for talking therapies for treatment of common mental health problems starting treatment within 18 weeks.

The standards are part of a £120 million funding boost to deliver ‘parity’ between mental and physical health services within the next five years. As well as the 18-week target the funding will go towards establishing new early intervention services, meeting six- week waiting time targets, plus a new target for patients suffering a first episode of psychosis to receive NICE-approved help within two weeks, NHS England said.

The Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation used a variety of sources for their analysis of quality across the NHS, including the Health and Social Care Information Centre, NHS England and the GP patient survey.

Their report also highlighted that primary care trusts had increased spending on mental health services by 1% in real terms, compared with a 2.4% increase in spending on hospitals between 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Their report said: ‘Inpatient services for mental healthcare are becoming harder to access for both adults and children, and staff levels in these services have reduced. Patients are increasingly having to be admitted out of area, which is expensive and can be harmful.’

The report did note that community services such as IAPT were improving access to therapies for people with less severe conditions ‘albeit from a low base’ and the rate of employment for people with mental illness was increasing faster than the rate for the general population.

However it concluded: ‘While there is no inexorable relationship between funding and the quality of care, it is interesting to note that spending on mental health services has been growing more slowly than spending on acute hospital care.’

Pulse revealed in July that a fifth of GPs have seen patients come to harm as they were unable to access appropriate support from their community mental health teams, with some patients committing suicide, being sectioned or admitted as a result.

Complete relevant Mental health CPD modules on Pulse Learning by registering for free, or upgrade to a premium membership for full access at only £89 a year.