Mental health waiting lists in Croydon are too long, report finds
Mentally ill people in Croydon face waiting lists that are too long, are not listened to, and are too often being prescribed medication instead of other therapies, a new report says.
Healthwatch Croydon has called on the authorities to do more to support people with mental health problems in the borough and provide stronger support services after it published a report into the state of the borough’s mental health services.
One in six people in the borough – about 67,000 people – are suffering from a mental health condition at any one time and that number is likely to increase, putting more strain on mental health services, as the population is set to expand rapidly over the next decade.
Healthwatch says people struggling with mental health difficulties encounter long waiting lists, are not being involved in their treatment and do not get enough support.
It adds that doctors are too quick to prescribe medication instead of talking about therapy and counselling.
The Bethlem Royal Hospital, run by SLaM
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM), which runs the borough’s mental health services on behalf of Croydon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said the report was “useful feedback”.
The trust also admitted that long waiting times in Croydon – especially for children and adolescents – were unacceptable and “do not reflect the standard offered by the trust in the other London boroughs we serve”.
Healthwatch’s report takes into account the first-hand views of about 90 people who have used, or tried to use, mental health services in the borough, as well as hundreds more pieces of patient feedback.
“The phrase ‘nobody listens’ is one we have heard often,” the report says. “Many residents tell us they are not involved in decisions about them, or aware of what’s in their care plan. Many residents also express [that there is a] lack of aftercare, with limited or sometimes no options.”
The report also noted that residents have reported that family members have been admitted to hospitals more than two hours’ journey from the borough after being sectioned, while one family said they were offered a specialist bed in Scotland.
Next of kin and carers also reported difficulties in accessing important information about family members with mental health problems, with care providers too often citing confidentiality, despite having access to such information when in neighbouring boroughs.
Residents also reported that calls to service providers often go unanswered, with messages not reponded to, in particular by social workers.
SLaM’s centre in Tamworth Road
Patients also said doctors were “too quick to reach for the medication”, often with strong side-effects, rather than recommending other forms of therapy.
Finally, the report notes that long waiting lists, of about 18 months for specialist psychological services, are still an issue.
One family reported waiting for more than two years for an appointment after a referral.
Charlie Ladyman, CEO of Healthwatch Croydon, said waiting lists are one of several areas that need “significant improvement”.
“This report raises significant issues about delivery of services for one in six people in Croydon,” she said.
“It is acknowledged that the health and social care system alone cannot solve the problem – housing, education and employment, among other factors, must also play a central role.
“However, there needs to be a significant improvement in waiting lists, better communication between patients, carers and providers, and a priority on admitting people locally, where they can be supported more effectively by friends and family.”
A spokesman for SLaM said that though they agreed with the overall findings of the report, it did not recognise the good work of staff or reflect positive patient feedback the trust had received.
They added: “The report acknowledges the particular challenges in Croydon relating to high levels of deprivation and a rapidly changing demographic.
“We are seeing more patients presenting to us for the first time with acute psychotic illness and complex needs which is resulting in high demand and pressure on our services.
“The trust has been aware of these challenges for some time and we are working closely with the Clinical Commissioning Group [Croydon CCG] to address issues relating to the funding and commissioning of mental health services across the borough.
“The waiting times highlighted in the report relate to specialist secondary psychological services in Croydon – and not people who need support in a crisis, or those seeking help from our teams in the community. People who have urgent needs can be seen in under two weeks.
“We take time to listen to our patients and engage them in the care we provide. Last month feedback from over 120 patients in Croydon told us that 93 per cent of respondents felt involved in their care.”
SLaM also said it had been rated “good” by the Care Quality Commission in September last year, and the CQC had highlighted its “reablement project” – giving people support so they don’t have to access secondary mental health services – in the borough as an area of good practice.
Croydon CCG also welcomed the report, and said it had invested £8.8 million over the past two years in providing more mental health services in the borough.
It said waiting times “for most services” were now meeting national standards.
A spokesman said the Croydon IAPT Psychological Therapies and Wellbeing Service had been expanded and developed, with patients now able to refer themselves directly.
“We recognise the need to support people earlier to avoid crises, and we have therefore launched a 24-hour Mental Health Crisis Line,” they said.
“We have also invested in our Early Intervention In Psychosis service to meet national standards.
“We know there is more to do to improve mental health services for people in Croydon, and we will continue to listen to all patient feedback in developing and improving services.”
The CCG also said any patient or carer experiencing difficulty in accessing services can contact its Patient Advice and Liaison Service on 0800 456 1517 or email SLCSU.Complaints@nhs.net