Mental health access and waiting time standards

Alongside other national partners, including the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), we have established access and waiting time standards for mental health services.

In October 2014, NHS England and the Department of Health jointly published Improving access to mental health services by 2020. This set out a clear vision to ensure mental and physical health services are given equal priority in terms of timely access to high quality services.

NHS England currently publishes access and waiting time metrics for three mental health pathways:

  • NHS Talking Therapies, for anxiety and depression
  • Children and Young People (CYP) with an Eating Disorder (ED)
  • Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP)

There are plans to publish other waiting time metrics in future, including for urgent and emergency care (UEC) and all age community mental health (CMH) services.

NHS Talking Therapies, for anxiety and depression

NHS Talking Therapies, for anxiety and depression (formerly known as IAPT), was the first part of the national Mental Health programme to implement a referral to treatment waiting time standard in 2015/16. To support commissioners and providers, we published guidance explaining how indicators for referral to treatment are constructed and confirming the data that needs to be submitted to NHS Digital. For further details on this dataset visit the NHS Digital website.

Children and Young People (CYP) with an Eating Disorder (ED)

In 2016 further guidance was developed to support reporting against the access and waiting time standard for Children and Young People (CYP) with an Eating Disorder (ED) (note that the Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) content within this document has since been updated, please refer to the section on EIP below). The document explains how the referral to treatment waiting time element of the standard is constructed and confirms the data that needs to be submitted as part of the Mental Health Services Data Set (MHSDS) to measure progress and inform future development.

To date, performance against the CYP Eating Disorder Access and Waiting Time Standard has been reported using a bespoke Strategic Data Collection Service (SDCS) collection which will be retired at the end of the 2022-23 reporting period.  The CYP ED access and waiting time standard will be monitored using MHSDS data only from 2023-24 onwards.  In preparation for the retirement of SDCS and migration to MHSDS the current guidance is being reviewed and updated. This updated guidance will be available later in 2023; in the meantime, the existing guidance should be referenced.

Service providers should note that: Information for activity for 2022-23 Quarter 4 (January – March 2023) will be the last to be collected via SDCS. Following the completion of the Quarter 4 collection and publication the bespoke SDCS collection will be retired. For more information on how to submit to the MHSDS please see the MHSDS submissions webpage.

Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP)

Guidance, produced jointly with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), is available to support improvements for people experiencing first episode psychosis.

Implementing the early intervention in psychosis access and waiting time standard guidance aims to support ongoing local implementation of the standard by commissioners and mental health providers, working collaboratively with service users and their families, carers and other partners. Additional resources are available in a helpful EIP resources pack, a frequently asked questions document (updated March 2017) and the following technical guidance, updated in 2022, supports teams to code EIP interventions correctly within the MHSDS dataset.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists College Centre of Quality Improvement (CCQI) published a baseline audit from 2014/15 showing variation among Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) services in delivery of NICE-recommended interventions; a core requirement of the EIP Access and Waiting Time Standard. Since 2017/18, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has been running the National Clinical Audit of Psychosis (NCAP) on NHS England’s behalf to support the development of EIP services to deliver the full NICE-recommended package of care. All NCAP reports are available on their website and sit alongside ongoing monitoring of the referral to treatment time strand of the EIP standard, which is published as part of routine monthly statistics from the MHSDS.