HSJ analysis of the NHS England data also found that 19,000 adults with a serious mental illness are waiting for longer than 18 months for a second contact with community mental health services. This is seen as a more meaningful metric for adults than the first contact.
In total, almost 240,000 children and young people were waiting for treatment from community mental health services in August 2023, as well as more than 192,000 adults.
The data revealed the median, or typical, waiting time for children and young people from referral to first contact was 178 days. The median wait time for adults from referral to “second contact” was 120 days.
The NHS long-term plan set out proposals for a four-week waiting time standard for children and adults to access community mental health services. This approach was piloted and a consultation published, but the new standards are yet to be implemented.
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the mental health network at the NHS Confederation, said leaders would be concerned – although “not surprised” – that patients were waiting so long for community services.
He added: “We need access and waiting times standards for all mental health services, to help us improve national data and to direct and allocate resources effectively.”