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Long waits to see doctors ‘creating mental health epidemic’, Lib Dems say

Long waits for GP and hospital appointments are “creating a mental health epidemic” in the UK, according to the Liberal Democrats.

It comes after a survey found the mental health of almost a quarter of adults has been impacted by waiting too long to see a doctor.

The latest opinions and lifestyle survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) explored the impact of winter pressures on different population groups in Great Britain.

From a sample of almost 12,000 adults, 24% reported poor mental health as a result of long waits for hospital or GP appointments.

Some 18% reported that their physical health had been affected by the issue.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: “This Conservative government’s failure to tackle agonising waits for NHS treatment is creating a mental health epidemic.

“Millions of people are struggling to see their GP or waiting months for hospital treatment because ministers have driven local health services into the ground.”

Last month, NHS England revealed 7.61 million treatments were waiting to be carried out in November 2023, relating to 6.39 million patients.

The figure was down from 7.71 million treatments and 6.44 million patients at the end of October.

However, analysis by the PA news agency found that waiting lists were still higher than when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged it would fall.

Mr Sunak made cutting waiting lists one of his top priorities at the start of 2023 when lists stood at 7.21 million.

“People are being left worried sick because they and their loved ones simply can’t access the healthcare they so desperately need,” Mr Davey added.

“It is simply unthinkable that Rishi Sunak is now cutting NHS funding, leaving hospitals and GP services even more stretched. It just shows he and this Conservative government are totally out of touch and need to be kicked out of office.”

The chief executive of NHS Providers, Sir Julian Hartley, said it is “deeply concerning that so many people are not getting the care they need, when they need it”.

“These shocking figures show the detrimental impact of long waits on people’s physical and mental health,” he added.

“Trust leaders are doing all they can to address huge care backlogs across physical and mental health services.”

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said family doctors “understand the impact that not being able to access care when they need to can have on patients”.

She added that GPs want “patients to have access to safe, timely and appropriate care” and called for the “severe capacity crunch of staff and resources in hospitals and community services” to be addressed.

Maria Caulfield, the minister for mental health, said: “This week, Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have introduced the Pharmacy First scheme to help unlock 10 million doctors’ appointments across the country, delivering on the Prime Minister’s priority to cut waiting lists.

“This is on top of the Conservatives’ Every Mind Matters campaign, which has helped 1.2 million people access NHS talking therapies, and the introduction of 24/7 mental health hotlines via 111 in most parts of England.

“By sticking to the plan, we will ensure that those who need to see a doctor can do so more quickly, delivering our promise of a brighter future.

“Just like the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats continue to snipe from the sidelines without offering a plan because they simply don’t have one.

“There is only one thing worse than one party without a plan and that is two parties without one.”