The county’s independent health and social care champion is calling on local NHS services to provide realistic time frames for appointments and better communication for people wanting to access mental health services.

A recent study by Healthwatch Gloucestershire into local people’s experiences of mental health services in the county has revealed many people are frustrated with complicated referral processes, often being passed from service to service with long waiting times and little information.

Over 430 people took part in the research on local mental health services and the findings are now published in a report Exploring the views of Gloucestershire people on mental health services in the county which will be presented to the Gloucestershire Health and Wellbeing Board.

Key findings from the study show:

  • A lot of people experience long waiting times for the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Service (IAPT) and Children and Young People’s Services (CYPS) across the county.
  • People talked about the positive support and help that their GP gave to them, but understood that they were not specialists and were limited in the support that they could provide.
  • Patients and carers need more flexibility on the number of support sessions they are given.
  • Some people were able to access information about services and support easily, however some people struggled to know where to go to get this information.  Carers especially felt that accessing professional support or advice for themselves was hard.
  • People felt that the information they accessed could sometimes be conflicting and difficult to understand.  It often came from many different sources.
  • People talked about the difficulties in accessing support for people who were in acute crisis and that they were sometimes signposted to services that were not able to offer support for those in crisis.

One person told Healthwatch Gloucestershire: “The letters that I received from NHS 2gether Let’s Talk did not help as they always said that they expected counselling to start in four to six weeks.  This continually got pushed back every month. A realistic time frame would have made me seek help via an alternative source.”

Another patient said: “When I did get some talking therapy, it only lasted for 12 weeks, which was only enough to start trying to find ways to manage the effects of long-term trauma.  Since then I have been left to find my own way through and have not been offered any trauma related therapy.”

Julia Butler-Hunt, Manager at Healthwatch Gloucestershire, commented: “Over a quarter of all feedback we receive from the public is about local mental health services, so we knew we had to make this area a top priority.

“Carers spoke to us about how frustrated they were about the lack of professional support they have in their peer support groups.  They find that they struggle to know where to turn and to access correct information.  We would like to see more support offered to these groups, with clear and consistent signposting to accurate information.

“We know that it is important that people know what has happened as a result of them sharing their experiences with us.  We are already working with commissioners to respond to the issues raised in this report.  We will be sharing this report with key partners and will be presenting our findings at the Gloucestershire Health and Wellbeing Board, and Mental Health Partnership Board.”

Jane Melton, from Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We welcome Healthwatch Gloucestershire’s report.  Feedback about people’s experiences of our specialist services and other local services is really important.  The results will add to our knowledge of how to provide best services for people experiencing mental illness and people with learning disabilities.

“We can see that there are areas of learning for us which specifically relate to some of our services.  We can also see matters which will require a collective effort, alongside other health and care providers and commissioners in the county to progress and we are fully committed to play our part.

“Our organisation will continue the commitment to continuous improvement of our mental health services with you and other community partners.  As such, your report is being shared with the appointed leadership team of our new organisation so that the information supports our further developments.

“We will look forward to the follow up reports mentioned which will detail information about the experiences of carers, the availability of information and advice in addition to the results relating to mental health stigma and attitudes in our communities in Gloucestershire.”

To view the report visit: www.healthwatchgloucestershire.co.uk/reports-publications