Long waits for mental health
treatment lead to divorce, job loss and money problems, RCPsych
- 1 in 4 people (24%) with a diagnosed mental health condition
reported waiting more than three months to see an NHS mental health
specialist, a poll for the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych)
- Some (6%) say they waited more than a year to see an NHS mental
health specialist – one man interviewed following the poll said he
waited 13 years to get the help he needed.
- Where respondents’ mental health got worse, these waits led to
relationship problems including divorce (36%), financial troubles
(32%) and work problems including job loss (34%).
PATIENTS are waiting up to 13 years to see an
NHS mental health specialist, research by the Royal College of
Psychiatrists (RCPsych) has found.
A ComRes poll of 500 British adults
diagnosed with a mental illness found that over half (55%) waited
more than four weeks from referral to see an NHS mental health
specialist, one in four more than three months and 6% more than a
year. Following the poll, RCPsych interviewed 25 respondents and
found one man waited 13 years to get the help he needed.
For some, the long waits caused a
deterioration in their mental health which in turn led to
relationship problems including divorce (36%), financial troubles
including getting into debt (32%) and work problems such as job
One respondent, a 26-year-old woman from
Scotland, said: “I wouldn’t leave the house, I lost my
job, I self-harmed. I had no help.”
Long waits for NHS mental health treatment are
largely down to an insufficient mental health workforce,
particularly when it comes to psychiatrists, who are doctors
specialising in mental health.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is today
launching the next phase of its Choose Psychiatry
campaign, aiming to encourage more medical students to choose to
specialise in psychiatry.
In the last five years (between June 2013 and
June 2018), the number of consultant psychiatrists has increased by
just 3.3%, while the number of consultants across the rest of the
NHS increased by 21%. During the same period, the number of child
and adolescent psychiatrists fell by 5.8%.
Wendy Burn, president of the RCPsych, said: “It is a
scandal that patients are waiting so long for treatment.
“If they were waiting many months or even
years for cancer treatment there would be an outcry, but for some
reason when it comes to mental illness long waits have been deemed
“Fortunately, the tide is turning with a 2%
rise in the number of psychiatrists in the NHS in England in the
past year and the number of trainees in psychiatry in Great Britain
up by a quarter between August 2017 and August this year.
“But as our research shows, the failure to
give people with mental illnesses – from depression and anxiety to
bipolar disorder and PTSD – the prompt help they need is ruining
their lives: preventing them from doing their jobs effectively,
maintaining key relationships like their marriage and keeping their
heads above water financially.
“One of the NHS’s mantras is ‘right care, in
the right place, at the right time’ and
until this becomes a reality, stories like the ones our poll
revealed will continue being all too familiar.”
Last year the Government announced a pilot
scheme to ensure it takes no longer than four weeks for a mentally
ill child in England to be seen by an NHS specialist following
referral by their GP or other services.
“Our research shows that much ground needs to
be covered if a similar waiting time cap were to be achieved for
adults,” Prof Burn said.
Respondents to the poll, whose
illnesses ranged from depression to bipolar disorder,
- Lee Rogers, 37, from north Wales. Interviewed following the
poll, Lee said he should have got the help he needed when he first
attended hospital in 2005 suffering from panic attacks.
But he was not seen by a mental health
specialist and it took another 13 years for him to be properly
assessed and begin getting the treatment he needed, which he is now
Lee said: “No-one in A&E
recognised that I was struggling with my mental health so I was
sent home with no support. I got so ill I ended up losing my job
and tried to kill myself several times. 13 years later I finally
got the help I needed. I wouldn’t have lost all those years of my
life had my mental ill health been identified at the
- A 39-year-old woman from the East of England said of her
experience of waiting for treatment: “My husband and I
nearly separated. I was impossible to live with and constantly felt
- Another 39-year-old woman, from Yorkshire and Humberside, said
in her anonymous response to the poll: “I became out of
control financially, lost everything and ended up in rehabilitation
- A 38-year-old woman from Wales said of the impact of her wait
to see an NHS mental health specialist: “I got
depression and it got so bad that I lost my job and I divorced over
it. As a result, I got a caution too and financial
RCPsych’s Choose Psychiatry campaign
was first launched in September last year to show that the
specialty is unique in requiring doctors to understand a patient’s
brain, body and background.
This autumn’s campaign will also focus on
The number of trainees in psychiatry in Great
Britain rose by a quarter (24.6%) from 337 in August 2017 to 420
this August, according to Health Education England figures.
Notes to editors
About the Poll
The Royal College of Psychiatrists
commissioned market research consultancy ComRes to conduct a poll
asking people with diagnosed mental health conditions how long they
had to wait for specialist mental health treatment after a
referral*, and what the impact of that wait was on their lives.
*To access NHS specialist mental health
services, all patients have to be referred for treatment, usually
by a GP. However, there are various alternative referral routes
including via other medical consultants in a hospital setting,
through social services, via a health service within a prison,
through liaison diversion schemes, or by an A&E doctor.
ComRes interviewed 501 British adults aged 18+
with a diagnosed mental health problem* between 17th-22nd August
2018. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of
all British adults aged 18+ with a mental health problem by age,
gender, region and social grade. These demographic specifications
were taken from a previous RCPsych/ComRes poll of 2,000 GB adults
aged 18+, conducted online between 10-12th August
*Must say that they have experienced a mental
health problem and it was formally diagnosed by a GP or other
mental health professional to qualify.
Respondents to the poll also provided an
anonymous narrative of their experiences of mental illness and how
it impacted on their lives. They also said what they had been
diagnosed with. Their illnesses ranged from depression and anxiety
to PTSD, bipolar disorder, postnatal depression, eating disorders,
personality disorders and alcoholism.
Following the poll, the Royal College of
Psychiatrists conducted interviews with 25 respondents. Information
from one of these interviews – Lee, 37, from North Wales – is
included in this press release.
As part of the Five Year Forward View
for Mental Health in England, significant improvements have been
made in mental health care, particularly in the areas of Early
Intervention in Psychosis (EIP), Improving Access to Psychological
Therapies (IAPT) and eating disorders treatment:
- In the last two years, at least 69% of patients received
treatment within two weeks of referral to EIP services every month
(well in excess of the 50% target set out in the Five Year Forward
view for Mental Health in 2017/18 and 53% in 2018/19).
- The Mental Health Five Year Forward View Dashboard from NHS
England confirmed that IAPT recovery rates reached a new peak of
51.7% in the final quarter of 2017/18.
- 74.7% of patients with urgent eating disorders cases started
treatment within one week in the first quarter of 2018/19 compared
to 64.9% in the same period two years earlier and 81.2% of patients
with routine eating disorder cases commenced treatment within four
weeks, compared to 65.1% two years earlier.
Find out more about the campaign here:
About the Royal College of
- We are the professional medical body responsible for supporting
over 18,000 psychiatrists in the UK and internationally.
- We set standards and promote excellence in psychiatry and
- We lead, represent and support psychiatrists nationally and
internationally to governments and other agencies.
- We aim to improve the outcomes of people with mental illness
and the mental health of individuals, their families and
communities. We do this by working with patients, carers and other
organisations interested in delivering high-quality mental health
For more information, or to speak to
an expert or case study, please
Senior Communications Officer, Royal College of Psychiatrists
0203 701 2738
Out of hours contact: