Mental health waiting times ‘should be days not weeks’
New NHS mental health waiting times are a welcome step – but could be cut from weeks to days using new technology, leading online therapy provider Ieso Digital Health has said.
From 1 April 2015, the NHS aims to provide face-to-face therapy to 75% of patients within six weeks and 95% of patients within 18 weeks. Furthermore, the NHS’s Five Year Forward View, published in October last year, expressed a desire for 95% to begin treatment within six weeks.
But while welcoming the move, Ieso Digital Health - which provides internet-enabled Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to NHS patients in 26 areas across England - highlighted official figures showing that the vast majority of patients are already starting therapy within the new target period.
Ieso Digital Health believes that this shows a lack of ambition - especially when CBT delivered online could open up access to thousands more people, including those on ‘invisible waiting lists’, who might be put off from seeking therapy in the first instance because of long waiting times, restricted mobility or simply silenced by stigma and cultural taboo.
The NHS currently aims to treat just 15% of those who could benefit from therapy. And of those that are referred, only 40% complete a course of treatment.
Academic studies have shown that leaving mental health patients on waiting lists leads to significant background costs to the NHS estimated to run into millions, with thousands more people going undiagnosed and suffering in silence.
NHS patients accessing Ieso Digital Health’s internet-enabled CBT service can have their first session with a BABCP [British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies]-accredited psychotherapist within days of referral, which can be made by a GP or self-referral in some parts of the UK.
The service features live text-based communication and can be accessed at a time and location of the patient’s convenience from a computer, tablet or smartphone, making the services more widely accessible and flexible.
Ieso Digital Health’s service has been shown to bring 52% of patients to recovery, compared to 45% of IAPT [Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, the government’s umbrella descriptor for talking therapies] patients nationally. Furthermore, this recovery typically takes half the number of sessions as face-to-face therapy.
Ieso Digital Health clinical lead, Sarah Bateup, said:
“The NHS’s efforts to give parity of esteem to mental health by setting guaranteed waiting times for the first time ever are very much welcomed and supported by Ieso Digital Health.
“However, government figures suggest that, technically, mental health services may already be meeting the 18-week target for referral to treatment.
“We could be so much more ambitious. Using 21st century solutions, it’s now possible to start treating depression and anxiety patients effectively within days. If a member of your family were suffering, you wouldn’t want them to wait weeks or months for treatment.
“There is also a good financial rationale for treating people more quickly. We know that the NHS incurs costs from people languishing on waiting lists, for example from extra GP visits.
“Reducing waiting times to days by offering more patients internet-enabled treatment with professional psychotherapists could save millions of pounds that could be reinvested in mental healthcare provision.
“We also need to ensure we’re treating as many people as possible who would benefit from therapy. Currently, mental health services aim to treat just 15% of those in need. Internet-enabled therapy, coupled with the ability to self-refer, could be part of the solution.
“Furthermore, we know that in 2013-14, only 40% of the one million people referred to mental health services actually finished treatment, with the rest either never being seen or dropping out of treatment before their second therapy session.
“These are shocking statistics and show the scale of the mental health challenge, estimated to cost the UK £100bn annually.”
Self-referral case study: West Kent
Ieso Digital Health is commissioned to provide internet-enabled therapy in West Kent, with patients being able to refer themselves for therapy in that area.
A leaflet mailed by Ieso Digital Health encouraging patients to self-refer was mailed to 80,000 households in West Kent. The campaign generated a 400% increase in referrals to Ieso Digital Health, with 90% choosing to refer online.
Many patients reported that they would not have sought help had it not been for the ability to refer discreetly, quickly and conveniently online.
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