Call for faster patient access to talking therapies
Patients are still waiting too long for counselling and other talking therapies, say mental health experts, despite wide recognition of their benefits.
A coalition of mental health groups in England says people should get therapy within 28 days of being referred.
The call comes as an audit by the Royal College of Psychiatrists warns older people are less likely to get help.
Care minister Norman Lamb said plans were in place to improve access.
Talking therapies include counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
The charity Mind carried out a survey, on behalf of the We Need to Talk coalition, of more than 1,600 patients who had tried such therapies. It found 12% waited over a year for treatment and 54% waited more than three months.
Most people were not offered a choice of therapies.
And one in 10 said they had paid for private treatment because they were unable to get the therapy they needed via the NHS.
Talking therapies have been promoted by governments since 2007, via the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.
This is now under the control of NHS England. Campaigners say it has reduced capacity and budget and they fear patients' experiences will only get worse.
Mind's chief executive Paul Farmer said the IAPT programme had received a large amount of funding and had improved access.
But he added: "It is far from acceptable that in some parts of the country people are still waiting over a year to access treatment.
"This must urgently be addressed if the government's commitment to parity between physical and mental healthcare is to be realised."
The Royal College of Psychiatrists' National Audit of Psychological Therapies, which took evidence from patients, therapists and service providers in England and Wales, found things had improved since its first analysis in 2011.
The number receiving treatment within 13 weeks had risen from 85% to 92%.
But 17% of the 220 services which responded had a policy excluding older people from talking therapy services.
Prof Mike Crawford, director of the RCPsych's Centre for Quality Improvement, said: "The results of the audit show the excellent progress that has been made to delivering high-quality talking treatments in the NHS.
"Further progress is needed to make sure that all people with anxiety and depression are able to access effective psychological treatments."
Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said £450m had been invested in the talking therapies programme.
"Due to its initial success, demand has increased and this has led to increased waiting times in some parts of the country.
"We want people to get access to treatment quickly. We have asked NHS England - the body which oversees the NHS - to introduce for the first time new waiting time and access standards for mental health services from 2015."
Martin McShane, NHS England's director for patients with long term conditions, said: "The findings from this national audit show while we are taking long strides towards improving access for patients, we've also got a lot of work to do to bring down waiting times and make sure staff are fully trained.
"It is a cause for concern that currently, for many patients, the dose of therapy they receive is not enough and we will strive to pay greater attention to the doses of therapy being commissioned."