Socialist Worker

Mental health cuts leave quarter of patients waiting three months for treatment

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2625

Students protest over mental health cuts in Bristol last year

Students protest over mental health cuts in Bristol last year (Pic: Simon Doyle )

Shocking new research has revealed the scale of the crisis facing mental health services.

Years of Tory budget cuts and long-term underfunding have left patients suffering from mental distress waiting months for treatment. Some of the worst affected are vulnerable children and teenagers.

Almost a quarter of patients suffering from mental distress are waiting over three months to see a specialist on the NHS. And more than 20 percent of patients have waited over year, according to the research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP).

Its research was based on a poll of 500 mental health patients.

One patient told the RCP that they had waited more than 13 years to get the right mental health support.

Forcing people to wait for proper treatment can have a devastating impact on their work and personal lives.

“It is a scandal that patients are waiting so long for treatment”, said Professor Wendy Burn, the RCP’s president. “The failure to give people with mental illnesses the prompt help they need is ruining their lives.”

The survey also found that more than a third of those who faced a wait to access specialist help saw their mental health deteriorate during that time.

“My husband and I nearly separated. I was impossible to live with and constantly felt suicidal,” a 39-year-old woman from the east of England said.

On top of long waiting lists, some of the most vulnerable in society are simply locked out of access to mental health support.

A separate piece of research has found that around 55,800 children were turned away from child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) in England in 2017-18. The actual figure could be higher because not all providers disclosed their referral numbers.


Whitney Crenna-Jennings is the senior researcher at the Education Policy Institute that authored the report. She said, “As many as one in every four children referred are denied access to specialist mental health services.

“Often it’s because their condition is not deemed serious enough to warrant treatment.

“Those excluded from treatment include children and young people that have self-harmed or experienced abuse.”

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Camhs services across England have been hollowed because the Tories have slashed local council’s budgets. At the same time referrals to Camhs have gone up by 26 percent in the last five years.

Crenna-Jennings warned about the dangers of the “significant number of local authorities phasing out crucial services that offer alternative support”. “These children may find it increasingly difficult to access any formal help at all,” she said.

The attack on local authority budgets has combined with an acute staffing crisis in mental health services.

The Tories were forced to admit last month that 2,000 nurses, therapists and psychiatrists are leaving mental health services every month. Some 23,686 mental health workers left the NHS between June 2017 and the end of this May.

A combination of poverty pay and rocketing workloads have forced workers out.

The austerity regime both intensifies the pressures that worsen mental distress and then kicks away the services that deal with it. 

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