A third of mental health patients wait more than 13 weeks for treatment
ONE in three patients with mental health issues are being forced to wait more than 13 weeks for treatment.
New Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) figures revealed that 1,413 of 4,178 patients had lengthy waits.
In April, the board set itself a target stating "no patient waits longer than 13 weeks to access psychological therapies".
Statistics from the end of May, however, show more patients waiting longer than this for treatment than any other specified time frames - 0-3, 3-6, 6-9 and 9-13 weeks.
In the South Eastern Trust area, more than half (54 per cent) waited longer than the maximum listed time according to the figures, released in response to an assembly question by UUP Lagan Valley member Robbie Butler.
The trust said it was working to address the backlog through a waiting list initiative.
"However, any individual awaiting this specific intervention has access to a full range of mental health services in the interim period," a spokeswoman said.
A report published by an independent commission in June called for significant improvement in mental health services in the north.
It found that one in four patients in adult mental health units would be more appropriately cared for in the community while one in five were unable to leave hospital because of insufficient housing or community support services.
It also found that mental health services in Northern Ireland were badly underfunded.
Professor Peter McBride, CEO of The Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health, said it was vital that people with were treated as quickly as possible.
"It is extremely disappointing to see that as of May 2016, approximately a third of those referred for psychological therapies are having to wait more than three months before they can access treatment and support," he said.
"We know from our counselling services provided within Carecall that when an individual presents with significant psychological and/or emotional difficulties it is vital that they get access to support as soon as is possible. In our experience, the earlier the intervention occurs, the more swiftly the person can start to recover a sense of balance and wellbeing.
"Early intervention also can be a proactive step to avoid psychological difficulties progressing into a mental health disorder. Not only is timely and swift intervention best for the individual, it also makes good sense to invest in front line support services to help people recover. This hopefully avoids them needing to enter the mental health system on a long-term basis."
The HSCB last night said psychological therapies referred to all interventions where a person "requires the dedicated input from a psychologist, psychotherapist, family therapist, cognitive behavioural therapist, and behaviour therapists".
"The current waiting time statistics reflect all those citizens waiting for a psychological intervention across mental health, learning disability, paediatric psychology, health psychology and older people service. Over 70 per cent of those on the waiting list are waiting for assessment from mental health services or adult health psychology."
Audrey Allen, head of operations of Action Mental Health, added: "Whilst we are encouraged by the health minister's commitment to championing mental health, the waiting times to access vital psychological treatments highlight that we have a long way to go in terms of improving access to treatment and ensuring people receive optimum levels of support both quickly and effectively."