Mental Health Waiting Time Targets Unveiled
For the first time, waiting time targets have been unveiled for people with mental health conditions. These targets are to be introduced from April next year, in a move that has been greatly welcomed by mental health charities.
Every year, mental health issues are thought to be accountable for 70 million lost working days, a total estimated cost to the economy of around £100 billion. According to the NHS, a quarter of all people will suffer with some kind of mental health problem in their lifetime. And yet, mental health is still such a taboo subject to talk about.
The waiting time targets were announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who has addressed the House of Commons with his first speech on the topic. The idea is to bring mental health patients up the same level of priority as those with physical health problems.
“It is wrong that [someone] needing a hip operation can expect treatment within a clear timeframe,” Mr Clegg explained. “But someone with a debilitating mental health condition has no clarity about when they will get help.”
So, from next April, at least 95% of people diagnosed with depression will have begun talking therapy within 18 weeks of diagnosis.
On top of this, young people suffering through their first case of psychosis will be put on a course of treatment as quickly as within a fortnight of their initial diagnosis, which is the same target length of waiting time as a cancer patient.
And patients who are thought to be suicidal will be treated with the same level of urgency as suspected heart attack sufferers because the cases will be considered the same imminent risk to a person’s life.
Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat Health Minister, described the set up before – of not treating mental health conditions with the same priority as physical health problems – as discrimination. “If you have cancer, you get access to a specialist within two weeks,” he said, “If you have a first episode of psychosis, it is completely haphazard and that is outrageous.”
“There is a moral and economic case to do this,” he added, explaining that to obtain genuine mental and physical health equality would be a truly pivotal achievement.
In his speech, Mr Clegg said that although progress has been made in fighting the stigma surrounding mental health, more needs to be done to raise awareness. He believes that discussing anxiety or depression should be just as acceptable as talking about a sprained ankle.
“If you are having a breakdown, if you are thinking of harming yourself, for any emergency that takes you to A&E, you will get the help you need, just as if you had gone to hospital with chest pains or following an accident,” he explained. “These are big, big changes.”