The Petitions Committee at the Welsh Assembly has issued several recommendations in response to a petition brought by Laura Williams regarding the accessibility of mental health care in Wales.

The Chair of the Committee, Janet Finch-Saunders AM thanked the petitioner for having the courage to tell her story to the Committee. The Chair identified that delivering mental health support is a vital aspect of the role of the NHS.

Laura’s story

Laura Williams brought the petition after feeling let down by mental health services. During a difficult period she attended her GP practice and explained that she was self-harming. Her doctor provided her with the crisis team’s leaflet and told her to ring them herself. Addressing the Petitions Committee Ms Williams stated “I want GPs to stop giving leaflets out and for them to do them on the patient’s behalf, if they see they’re not fit, they need help there and then”.1

One of the key concerns raised was the recognition of what constitutes a mental health crisis. Mind Cymru representatives expressed this concern when addressing the committee in June 2018, stating that the majority of patients with mental health issues are treated in the primary care setting. This makes it vital that GPs are trained to recognise when a patient is experiencing a mental health crisis.

Alternatives to the current crisis care services that are available in Wales were raised by a representative from Hafal, a charity which supports those recovering from serious mental illness in Wales. When giving evidence in November 2017 to the Committee a Hafal representative explored the possibility of crisis sanctuaries which operate in Leeds, Bristol and London where patients can make contact and are seen within a few days. Here they are supported while they wait for a specialist treatment.

Waiting times

The Petitions Committee also considered the waiting times faced by patients attempting to access mental health support in Wales. Mind Cymru identified a lack of “robust data” surrounding waiting times, but noted that no patient should have to wait longer than 28 days to access therapy.

The Committee noted the introduction of new waiting time targets for mental health services in Wales. These include targets for a primary care assessment within 28 days, urgent referrals to be seen within 48 hours and emergency referrals to be seen within four hours.2

A Hafal representative expressed concerns surrounding inconsistent targets in Wales. The Primary care target is 28 days while the secondary care target is 26 weeks. This arrangement was labelled as “ridiculous”, because where a patient is in a condition to receive specialist services they will be required to wait six times longer than a patient who attends their GP.3

The Petitions Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should explore the following:

  1. The implementation of a human rights based approach to services and treatment.
  2. Review access to crisis care with an aim to improve clarity amongst healthcare professionals about what a mental health crisis is.
  3. Ensure healthcare professionals are proactive in organising mental health support for patients experiencing a mental health crisis.
  4. Consider alternative forms of crisis care.
  5. Review mental health waiting time targets in secondary care.
  6. Review access to various therapies ensuring that there is sufficient provision for treatment when required.
  7. Increase resources available for mental health services.