“Disturbing” figures have revealed more than 4,000 people are on the waiting list for an appointment with adult mental health services.
he statistics highlight the impact the pandemic has had on waiting lists across the health system.
Of this total, the majority are routine appointments. However, there are more than 100 waiting for urgent appointments relating to mental health issues.
As of January 31, in the Southern Trust 1,419 people were waiting for a routine appointment and 50 waiting for an urgent appointment.
A total of 994 patients in the Belfast Trust were on the list for a routine appointment, with 49 waiting to be seen urgently.
In the South Eastern Trust these figures were 385 and 31 respectively.
The Northern and Western Trusts do not routinely collect information on whether mental health service appointments are urgent or routine. The former had 640 people waiting to be seen, while the latter had 697.
SDLP health spokeswoman Cara Hunter said: “Many of these people are in acute distress and have taken the massively difficult step of admitting they need help.
“It is a shameful reflection on our society that when people reach out for help we aren’t able to provide it for them.
“As chair of the all-party group on dual diagnosis, I have been working with those at the front line who are doing their best to provide support as quickly as possible to those in critical need.
“But the truth is that we have problems with resource, workforce planning and service coverage. These need urgent attention if we’re to provide people with the help they need and I’ll be raising it with the Health Minister.”
Alliance health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw said while it was “disturbing” to read the waiting list figures, “it is even more disturbing when you hear the stories from constituents behind them”.
“There is no doubt delays in diagnoses, treatment, pain management and/or surgery lead to worse health outcomes, more expensive procedures and can bring on other conditions, such as poor mental health,” she added.
“The Health Minister has to seize the opportunity, when rebuilding the health service post-reconfiguration to deal with Covid patients, to incorporate radical transformation.
“This should include the dismantling of barriers between the five health and social care trusts to ensure those patients in most acute need are treated in priority.
“And it will also mean clinical staff teams may have to move into a smaller number of sites to bring together expertise and ensure greater efficiencies.”
The Department of Health said mental health services were under “significant pressures”.
“The Covid-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions to normal life is increasing demand across services,” it said.
“Unfortunately, this means some people have to wait for treatment.
“It is accepted that reform of mental health services are needed.
“On May 19, 2020 Minister Swann published the Mental Health Action Plan. The plan includes actions to kickstart the reform of mental health services. To further this an interim mental health champion was announced in June 2020.”