Wednesday 8 October 2014

Minimum Waiting Times for Mental Health

- Nicola Byron, Founding Director of Student Minds

Minimum Waiting Times for Mental Health

Speaking at the Liberal Democrats conference in Glasgow, Nick Clegg announced waiting time targets for mental health would be introduced by April next year. We are absolutely thrilled - this is one more step towards parity of esteem between physical and mental health.

Tracking and reporting waiting times and holding organisations to targets is absolutely vital for student mental health, where waiting times are the difference between successfully continuing with education and having to take time out. Students' transient lifestyle, spending around 25 weeks of the year at home, away from University and their registered GP, creates real problems for accessing specialist mental health services and receiving good continuity of care. These problems are exacerbated by long waiting times. Due to high demand for psychological therapies, it can currently take months to progress up a waiting list to receive care.

Our transitions report, University Challenge, identified that it is not uncommon for students to reach the top of the waiting list in their university locality when they are back at home during the holidays or when they are about to sit university exams. If patients cannot attend the sessions assigned to them, they are usually dropped off the waiting list and required to go through the referral process again. A quarter of the students with experience of eating disorders surveyed in the University Challenge study waited more than 6 months for an appointment with a specialist service and on average students were waiting 20 weeks for an appointment. These waiting periods are particularly problematic, leaving students doubting whether they need treatment; as they wait, people lose the self-motivation that they need to fight towards recovery. The challenge of waiting times is not only felt by students. Over half of professionals we surveyed in the University Challenge project identified that they did not find it easy to refer students to specialist services and 96% felt that students do not get see by specialist care quickly enough.

It is imperative that we do not let students fall through the gaps. "Because the majority of serious mental illnesses present themselves by the age of 25, students are a particularly vulnerable group and are most in need of reliable, accessible mental health care," says Seb Baird, Student Minds Volunteer.

To decrease waiting times, the government is going to have increase the availability of mental health interventions. The Health Foundation argues that this can be done effectively by changing the relationships between health services and those with mental health difficulties. A pilot peer support project at Nottingham NHS Trust resulted in a 14% reduction in inpatient stays, saving the trust around £260,000. Innovative steps like this can, and must, be used to help increase provision of mental health services, decrease demand for high intensity interventions, and cut waiting times.

Student Minds has been advocating the power of peer support for years. If you are interested in finding out more about the support that our programmes offer for students, please visit -

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