Mental health services wait times in Yorkshire could cost lives - Jayne Dowle

Behind every one of the 200,000 names on the waiting list for mental health services in Yorkshire is a tragedy waiting to happen. It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, what kind of family you’re from, or where you live, mental health difficulties can strike anyone, at any time.

And with them, they bring fear, isolation, suffering and all too often, tragedy. Why the Government seems incapable of grasping these facts – and the shocking waiting lists in our region will no doubt extrapolate across the country – is beyond reasoning.

Instead of throwing everything at the backlog and poor care for mental health patients, they have scrapped their 10-year mental health plan and put reforming the Mental Health Act on the backburner, points out Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health.

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For far too long, mental health provision has been the Cinderella service of the NHS, pushed to the back of the queue probably because it is ‘difficult’, typically involving a multi-agency approach – pulling together medical treatments, support in the community, benefits, housing and ongoing back-up in the form of counselling and therapies.

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health. PIC: UK Parliament/Jessica TaylorDr Rosena Allin-Khan is Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health. PIC: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health. PIC: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Creating individual care plans is a time-consuming, painstaking process and it only takes one cog in the wheel to fail for the whole thing to fall apart, sending the person in mental pain further into despair. And whole families are paying the price for decades of under-investment, a situation made worse by the long-term effects of the Covid pandemic.

This new analysis, by the Labour Party, comes in the wake of the Government’s announcement, earlier this month, of £250m for the NHS to tackle waiting lists, including specialist mental health ambulances to deliver quicker support this winter.

However, NHS leaders have warned the Prime Minister that his pledge will be difficult to meet, in part due to the impact of strike action, which has seen the number of hospital appointments cancelled rise to around one million this year.

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“It is heartbreaking that patients are being left waiting months or even years for support, their mental health often deteriorating to crisis point in the meantime,” says Dr Allin-Khan. “The system is failing patients and they have nowhere else to turn. The Government must tackle the rising waiting lists to ensure everyone can access treatment in a timely manner.”

Last November, at a sentencing hearing for her brother, James, Sally Andrews told the court that he had consistently fallen through gaps in the mental health system and not received the care he needed.

The result? He stabbed his elderly parents to death with a German bayonet at their home in Totley, Sheffield, during a psychotic episode, inflicting 82 wounds on his mother. His father also died from multiple injuries.

David Brooke KC, prosecuting, told the court that Andrews later said he had been hearing voices for months and that “God had made him do what he had done”.

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In a victim personal statement, Sally laid the blame for this horrific tragedy at the door of “a broken health and social service”, quoting letters her brother received that stated he “fell in between services” and that he “remained on waiting lists”.

With at least 7.5m people in total on NHS waiting lists (official NHS Key Statistics figures as of July this year) in England, 200,000 souls waiting for mental health treatment in Yorkshire might sound like a drop in the ocean.

However, as Sally Andrews and her family know to their infinite cost, the point about prioritising mental health treatment is not just that it helps the person suffering, but will – more often than not – help and protect other family members too.

Andrews is now in Rampton Special Hospital in Nottinghamshire “without limit of time” after he admitted manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

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This tragic and life-altering case should stand as warning that this is what happens when urgent treatment for mental health conditions is not forthcoming.

Remember the 18-week treatment target – the maximum time the government set out from referral to being treated in the NHS Constitution? It hasn’t been met since 2016.

Many of the millions of people waiting for help to come will be enduring serious mental health conditions, often as yet undiagnosed, staggering by from day to day, their state of mind deteriorating further as they hope for that letter, text or phone call to arrive with news of an appointment.