Two-thirds of GPs say long waiting times for psychological therapy are preventing patients getting treatment for common mental health problems, a survey has revealed.
The findings suggest GPs are struggling to offer the most appropriate therapy because of lack of access to services – in stark contrast to recent claims by Prime Minister David Cameron that GPs were failing to treat patients or offer them ‘increasingly available’ cognitive behavioural therapy.
The survey of 1,000 GPs in England showed that 66% see waiting times for psychological therapy as the ‘biggest barrier to treatment’.
The research – commissioned by a provider of online mental health therapy services for the NHS – also included focus group discussions, in which GPs reported that longer waiting times for talking therapies would make them more inclined to prescribe antidepressants as a stop-gap.
The report also highlighted that 37% of patients referred for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services did not enter treatment in 2013/14, while 11% – around 76,000 – waited 90 days or longer to be seen.
In a raft of recommendations, the report calls for the Department of Health to retain the original IAPT targets on waiting times and treatment response, and for triage to be managed by independent parties rather than providers of IAPT.
Latest official figures on IAPT up to the end of June this year show that, nationally, new waiting targets – for 75% of patients to be treated within six weeks and 95% within 18 weeks – which were mandated by the Department of Health from April, are already being met.
However, waiting times continue to vary markedly across CCGs, while original IAPT key performance measures – for the average waiting time to fall within 28 days and for 50% of patients to recover – are still not being met.