Revealed: the postcode lottery for mental health patients

Government pledges to provide more therapy for those who need it most are not being met, latest figures show
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Patients face waiting lists of more than 18 months to get therapy for depression and anxiety, in some parts of the country, according to new figures published today.

A survey of NHS trusts has found that more than 100 - one third - of all primary care trusts (PCTs) are struggling to cope with the backlog of people who are desperate for treatments that include counselling and cognitive therapy.

More than 90 per cent of trusts have waiting lists of over a year for cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and more than three-quarters have waiting lists of three months or more for all psychological therapies.

Patients in Yorkshire have to wait longer than anywhere else in the country for cognitive behaviour therapy, a treatment proven to help relieve low-level depression and anxiety. For example, Wakefield West PCT has a waiting list of 78 weeks and in East Yorkshire people with mental health problems are faced with a wait of up to 52 weeks.

There is also a significant north-south divide in the availability of CBT. In parts of Cornwall and Suffolk the wait is three weeks or below.

The figures have been obtained by Dr Foster, the healthcare information company, and are based on data provided by trusts in England in 2005.

The research has also found that waiting times were just as bad for counselling, although the north-south divide is not as pronounced.

The latest statistics will worry government ministers who have promoted so-called talk therapies - which enable people to overcome anxiety and negative behaviour - as a way of helping workers to get back into full-time employment. Earlier this year, Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Health, unveiled a major expansion of talk therapies as an alternative to drugs such as Prozac, which cost the National Health Service more than £400m a year.

The Government also pledged to increase the number of therapists employed in the NHS in areas with the greatest number of people suffering from depression and claiming incapacity benefit.

The expansion of therapy is based on official recommendations made by the Government's so-called "happiness tsar", Professor Lord Richard Layard, who has helped to persuade Whitehall to take therapy seriously by arguing that it can have profound economic benefits. It was Lord Layard who called for 10,000 new therapists, on the basis that the costs of coping with depression to the economy were huge, with around £10bn a year spent on incapacity benefit.

However, mental health charities say that cash-strapped trusts are diverting funds away from mental health services and are instead using the money to plug gaps in other services.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday earlier this year about the need for more CBT, Professor Layard said: "Therapy is a form of empowerment in the way drugs are not."

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