People in Cornwall waiting up to nine months for NHS talking therapy for depression and anxiety

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NHS bosses in charge of mental health services in Cornwall have apologised to patients who are waiting longer than ever for access to talking therapy for low mood, stress and anxiety.

Exclusive figures seen by ITV West Country show that the average waiting time has more than trebled over the past three years, with some people forced to wait almost nine months for a first appointment.

Jo Boulton says people are struggling more than ever due to the cost of living crisis. Credit: ITV News

Jo Boulton, from the Cornwall branch of the charity Mind, said: "We've just been through a pandemic, we're now in the middle of this cost of living crisis, and people are really struggling, it's really impacting their mental health and wellbeing.

"We are seeing more people coming forward struggling with depression, anxiety and stress. And in order to get well, people are obviously looking for help and support."

Talking therapy can be a useful tool for people living with a variety of unseen conditions. Credit: ITV News

The average waiting time for a first appointment with Cornwall's NHS therapy service has gone steadily up, from 8.3 days in 2020; to 10.8 in 2021; to 24.2 days in 2022.

The longest waiting times show a similar trend. In 2022 one patient waited 266 days - that's almost nine months - from being referred to speaking to a therapist.

Jo Boulton added: "If you really desperately need to have cognitive behavioural therapy or counselling, and you've got to wait all that time, you can just feel so hopeless.

"Eight or nine months can be a long time to wait when you're really struggling. There was a time when people thought well I'm quite happy to pay for therapy rather than wait. But with the financial difficulties that we're all facing, for some people that isn't an option anymore."

People in Cornwall are receiving text messages from the IAPT team apologising for the long waiting times.

ITV News can reveal that patients in Cornwall are being sent text messages by the psychological therapy team, apologising for the long wait and directing them to online services or a 24-hour emergency crisis helpline.

James Ward, operational lead for the IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service, said: "We want to see people as quickly as we possibly can, and we apologise to those patients who are waiting for long periods of time.

"Obviously we don't want to see anyone have to wait unnecessarily long times for treatments. However, we do have options that we can offer people to utilise whilst they wait for one-to-one intervention.

"People have been sent messages where we've been very apologetic for the waiting time and we've wanted to make sure that people are aware that we've not forgotten them, they are still on our list and to apologise, because we are very aware this is not an ideal waiting time."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We are committed to improving mental health services and are increasing investment by over £2billion a year by 2024, with the aim to deliver 27,000 more mental health professionals, so two million more people can get the mental health support they need.

"This includes expanding access to NHS talking therapies for adults with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression."