More than 1,500 people in Wigan waited over a month for NHS psychological therapy, figures reveal.
Mental health charity Mind called the figures worrying, and warned that excessive waits between sessions can impact recovery from mental health conditions.
NHS Digital data shows 1,600 people in the Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group area waited more than a month for a second therapy appointment between February 2018 and January 2019.
That means almost a third of patients having NHS therapy in Wigan faced these “hidden waits” between appointments.
NHS guidance says “services should guard against hidden waits within a course of treatment”, although there is no official target for second appointments.
Geoff Heyes, head of health policy at Mind, said: “We find it really worrying that people are facing such long waits between their first and second therapy appointments, meaning they are more likely to become more unwell before their next session.
“Long gaps also impact your ability to build a relationship with your therapist, and worrying that you’ve not been offered regular enough appointments can have a hugely detrimental impact on recovery.
“National guidance is clear that people should not have to wait an excessive time between the first and second appointment, so local services should be striving to give people timely support.”
NHS England’s Improved Access to Psychological Therapy programme aims to improve therapy services for a range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress.
Targets state that 75 per cent of people in the programme should have their first treatment appointment within six weeks of referral, and 95 per cent within 18 weeks.
In Wigan, 8,840 people had their first therapy session over the 12-month period, and 99.7 per cent of them were in treatment within six weeks of being referred. Nobody waited longer than 18 weeks.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists, which co-authored the guidance for the IAPT programme, said it was pleased that targets were being met, but acknowledged that improvements were needed.
Dr Billy Boland, vice chair of the general adult psychiatry faculty, said: “Clearly, more work needs to be done to improve waiting times for follow up appointments. The quicker these are, the better outcomes there will be for patients.
“For it to be a true success, IAPT needs to improve its offer as a whole, and not just focus on the initial access. It should be continuously improving.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: “As Mind and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have acknowledged, the widely agreed waiting time targets for referral to first treatment for psychological therapies have not just consistently been met but also exceeded the national standards - there is also an unprecedented level of transparency when it comes to all IAPT data, meaning that none of the waits are in fact ‘hidden’.”
“In the past year alone IAPT has had over one million people referred for care and most importantly has helped hundreds of thousands of people to overcome their depression and anxiety, and better manage their mental health.