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Mental health waiting times dispute

QUESTIONS: Sara Boyce says no statutory waiting times exist QUESTIONS: Sara Boyce says no statutory waiting times exist
By Michael Jackson

LOCAL mental health campaigners have disputed a Public Health Agency (PHA) claim that people suffering from mental health issues are not “waiting months” for counselling services that it funds.
Last week, the Andersonstown News published criticisms of the PHA by local People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll, who said that people “are waiting months to gain access to counselling services or therapy sessions”.
But responding to the criticisms, the PHA said that none of the services it funds have “a waiting list of individuals waiting months for access to support.”
This week, mental health campaign group #123GP accused the PHA of “ignoring the reality” of mental health waiting lists. Sara Boyce from #123GP questioned the PHA’s claim about waiting times, insisting that “there is no statutory target waiting time for access to counselling”.
“On World Suicide Prevention Day, a local suicide prevention charity, the Suicide Awareness and Support Group, stated that the waiting list for counselling is ‘sky rocketing at present’, it’s up to four months,” she said.
“A survey in 2018 by #123GP found that 67 per cent of people referred for counselling waited four weeks or more while 27 per cent waited over four months to be seen.
“The PHA claims that nobody is waiting for months for counselling – our question to the PHA is, given that there is no statutory target waiting time for access to counselling, what data are they basing this claim on? It certainly isn’t on the evidence on the ground, from individuals and families and hard-pressed mental health and suicide prevention charities. The reality is that more people will die while waiting for counselling unless urgent action is taken. Shockingly the Protect Life 2 Strategy, finally published last week, contained no commitments to increase access to counselling.
“On World Mental Health Day on the 10th of October the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Professor Dainius Púras, will address a Mental Health Congress in Belfast, where he will say that little short of a revolution is needed in mental health.
“Individuals, families and grass roots organisations in West Belfast who are directly impacted by the crisis in mental health and suicide are invited to come along and listen to the UN Special Rapporteur and join with others in calling for urgent action before more people are lost to this crisis.”
A spokesperson for the PHA said: “The Public Health Agency (PHA) cannot comment on waiting times for counselling or other support provided by services that it does not commission. According to feedback from PHA-funded service providers, none of the services supported by the PHA have indicated that people are waiting ‘weeks or months’ to access support commissioned by the agency.
“The agency monitors services it commissions on an ongoing basis to assess whether they are experiencing pressures, and we seek to work with the provider to address any challenges they may be facing. In the case of services such as the Lifeline crisis response service or the Self Harm Intervention Project (SHIP) both commissioned by the PHA, if an individual is assessed as needing access to support therapies the service will facilitate access to a face-to-face appointment within 10 working days.
“Any issues regarding waiting times for services which the PHA does not fund would need to be raised directly with the appropriate providers.”

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