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Mental Health Treatment Waiting Times

Volume 721: debated on Tuesday 1 November 2022

Waiting time targets for adult talking therapies were exceeded in 2021-22, with 91.1% accessing those services within six weeks and 98.6% within 18 weeks.

Young people in the north-east potentially have to wait up to three years for mental health treatment. Local Metro Radio launched Charley’s campaign to get young people more timely health support. The campaign is in memory of 12-year-old Charley Patterson, who took her own life waiting for treatment. Labour has a fully costed plan to guarantee mental health treatment within a month of referral for patients who need it. Will the Minister commit to adopting that target now?

I thank the hon. Lady for her campaign on this issue. I am very sorry to hear of the tragic case of Charley Patterson. We recognise that, particularly with the pandemic, there has been a significant rise in mental health conditions for young people and children. We are expanding services so that an additional 345,000 children and young people can access NHS mental health support, and we are providing more support in colleges too. I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss her campaign further.

When I recently visited Sheffield College, students told me about the difficulty they face in accessing mental health services, and it is the same every time I visit a school to talk to students about the priorities for this place and for the Government. According to Mind, one in six young people have a mental health problem. We know that referrals for children and adolescents hit record numbers this summer. Early intervention is crucial but is simply not available. Young people are waiting months and months for their first appointment with child and adolescent mental health services after referral. There is a deepening crisis and, frankly, what the Minister just described will not address it, so what more will she do to ensure proper funding of mental health services for young people?

I have highlighted that there are additional pressures—more children and young people are coming forward with mental health conditions—but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are putting early intervention directly into schools. Mental health support teams now cover 26% of pupils, with the aim of going up to 35% of pupils by April, and we intend to increase that further. So we are getting in as early as possible. Over 420,000 children and young people were treated through NHS-commissioned services in the last financial year. There is more to be done, but we have made a good start.

There is a real danger that prioritisation of mental health services is not what it was a few years ago. Does the Minister agree that we need to take urgent action on workforce development and other measures to increase capacity for mental health services, so we do not let down the hundreds of thousands of young people who are on the waiting lists? We need to take action now.

I agree and we are taking action now. Our aim is to expand the mental health workforce by an additional 27,000 healthcare professionals by 2023-24. We have already seen an increase—almost 6,900 more full-time equivalent staff. The workforce are the key to that, which is why are investing in them so heavily.

Waiting times to access mental health specialists in my area are unacceptably high, and I am constantly told there is simply an inability to recruit mental health specialists. I know the Minister works very hard on this subject and she just mentioned what we are doing over the next couple of years. What practical steps can the Government take to ensure that, this year, 2022, there are more mental health specialists available to serve my constituents in Plymouth and south-west Devon?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We have introduced standards to measure waiting times because the situation is very diverse across the country. NHS England is consulting on introducing five new standards so we can keep track of where the gaps are. Patients can also refer themselves to talking and psychological therapies: over 1 million people have self-referred through the NHS website without having to go and see their GP, so they can get direct access and support when they need it.