“Sixteen weeks on, I’m still waiting for an appointment” Two students share their experiences of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS mental health services
Long wait times for referral appointments are, unfortunately, an endemic problem in the mental health services across the country. In 2015, new waiting time standards were introduced to the NHS, with a maximum time of 18 weeks being set for the majority of mental health referrals – with the hope of 75% of people being seen within six. However, this is for IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) services; the targets for more acute mental health conditions are much more ambitious. For the first episode of psychosis, the aim is for over 50% of referrals to be seen within two weeks.
On January 31, West Midlands Combined NHS Authority announced a new cooperative plan on mental health, entitled ‘Thrive West Midlands’. Sean Duggan, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Network has called it an “unprecedented example of a region unifying very different services to improve mental health.” The Plan of Action they revealed is, in its simplest capacity, five-fold: it plans to support people into work, provide safe and stable places to live, tackle mental health in the criminal justice system, develop new approaches to health and care and get the community involved in mental health recovery.
In 2015, new waiting time standards were introduced to the NHS, with a maximum time of 18 weeks being set for the majority of mental health referrals – with the hope of 75% of people being seen within six.
The Plan of Action also reveals some enlightening statistics: that among people under 65 nearly half of all ill health is mental illness, that just under a quarter of adults in the West Midlands have a mental health problem, and that 477 people lost their lives through suicide in the West Midlands in 2015. Some of the above priorities also directly respond to the facts presented, including that 70,000 people in the West Midlands are unable to work due to their mental health, and that nine out of ten people in prison have a mental health or substance abuse problem.
The issue with the West Midlands’ Plan of Action is funding. Mental health services across the UK are not receiving as much money as they require, with them only receiving 13% of the NHS budget, despite mental health issues making up 28% of the burden of disease.
The University of Warwick does provide on-campus mental health support, including counselling, the Health Centre and the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team. However, for long-term mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, eating disorders and clinical depression, this process will generally result in referral to local NHS services. For many students, this only re-emphasises the need to prioritise mental health in Coventry & Warwickshire. Two students currently being treated by local services share their stories:
The Plan of Action also reveals some enlightening statistics: that among people under 65 nearly half of all ill health is mental illness, that just under a quarter of adults in the West Midlands have a mental health problem, and that 477 people lost their lives through suicide in the West Midlands in 2015.
“I was referred to the local Coventry NHS mental health services – more specifically the eating disorder clinic – at the beginning of December. Sixteen weeks on, I am still waiting for my first appointment. In that time, my weight has continued to decrease and I’ve had to be put on both anti-depressant and anti-anxiety tablets in the meantime.”
“Over the past eight years, there have been two constants in my life: mental health problems and rubbish doctors”.
As I’ve grown up, my regularly-occurring bouts of depression found themselves a new friend in the uncontrollable, episodic highs that developed. However, I’ve yet to receive an official diagnosis of what a few less-than-professional health professionals have told me I ‘probably have’: bipolar disorder. Finally, in April 2016, I registered at Sherbourne Medical Centre in Leamington Spa, where I was listened to and taken seriously for the first time. My GP prescribed me antipsychotics, which has allowed me to lead a semi-normal life, and referred me to the IAPT service.”
Finally, in April 2016, I registered at Sherbourne Medical Centre in Leamington Spa, where I was listened to and taken seriously for the first time.
“My experience since then has been one of exemplary individuals operating at the mercy of a flawed system. I was first warned that my status as a university student, and therefore a person who lives in Warwickshire for only half the year, would ‘complicate’ the referral process. I was not able to secure an appointment with a psychiatrist until October 2016, six months after I was first referred. Since then, my follow-up appointments, where I may finally receive a diagnosis, have been delayed twice. I can only assume that this is on account of low funding and poor management.”