Patients with serious mental health problems are waiting up to two years for ‘vital’ treatment, according to the BMA.

Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) were sent to 207 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and 54 mental health trusts in England. Of the 183 CCGs that responded, nine in ten did not have records of waiting times for talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, family therapy and dynamic psychotherapy treatment. And almost half of responding mental health trusts had no record of the number of people waiting for talking therapies. Only three trusts had information on waiting times for DBT and only eight trusts held data on waits for family therapy, said the BMA.

Figures from the 25 trusts and 17 CCGs that did keep records revealed lengthy waits, with 3,700 patients waiting longer than six months and around 1,500 patients waiting longer than a year.

Areas hit hardest by long waiting times for treatment include Leicestershire, where patients waited up to two years for treatment, and Essex and Derbyshire, which recorded waiting times of up to a year and a half.

In Croydon, over 100 children in need of specialised talking therapies waited longer than six months for treatment, according to the research.

The BMA has called for an NHS-wide audit of talking therapies for patients with more severe mental health conditions, alongside workforce and performance checks. It has also recommended that a new programme of funding be set up for a national talking therapies service for patients with severe mental health problems.

Efforts to improve support services for people experiencing common mental health problems were made by the NHS in 2008 through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.

Since then, NHS England’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health has set more ambitious targets for IAPT services to support 1.5 million people every year by 2020. It includes a target for 75% of people to receive treatment with six weeks and 95% within 18 weeks.

Dr Andrew Molodynski, BMA consultants committee mental health lead, said: ‘There is increasing inequality between people suffering mild to moderate mental ill health and those with severe mental illness. Over the past decade, there have been great strides in improving access to psychological treatment for people suffering mild depression and anxiety through IAPT services, which offer easy and often quick access to a limited range of treatments.’

However, he added that while most doctors would welcome more IAPT services, the service isn’t appropriate for people with serious mental illnesses and health planners risk a ‘blind spot’ where the needs of these patients are overlooked.

In response to the BMA’s findings, Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, said: ‘The government has pledged to put mental health on a par with physical health by 2020 but this needs to be reflected in the level of investment in mental health services … the growing demand, coupled with a shrinking workforce, increases pressure on services. We must ensure the workforce is equipped to meet the needs of the population and that the funds are available to keep services going.

‘Our members are doing great work despite financial pressures and workforce challenges and we welcome the government’s recently announced plans to ensure investment reaches the front line.’