Health trusts throughout Northern Ireland have breached the two-hour waiting time for emergency mental health assessments on more than 1,750 occasions in the past year.
ew data shows that 120 people in crisis have waited more than 12 hours for an assessment within the Southern Trust. Meanwhile, the Belfast Trust has missed its targets 41pc of the time.
This is despite health policy stipulating that services will provide an emergency response within two hours when a person experiences a mental health crisis which risks their personal safety.
Data obtained by the human rights group Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) shows more than one-third of the South Eastern Trust’s patients (341) waited more than two hours.
The group said the figures highlight a “lack of compliance and oversight” in relation to mental health performance by trusts.
It shows 10 patients waited up to eight hours for an assessment within South Eastern Trust. It missed its targets by 34.7pc.
Almost half of all people who attended emergency departments in Belfast and were experiencing mental health crises in 2021 waited longer than they should have.
This is an increase from 35pc in the previous year, though both the Belfast Trust and the Northern Trust have said they do not record how long the wait was once it passes the two-hour mark.
Additionally, the Belfast Trust has revealed it has approximately 40 referrals a week for people turning up in emotional distress who are given an appointment date and a time for psychological assessment within a specified timeframe.
According to the figures, 1,178 patients were seen within two hours in the Belfast Trust in the past 12 months, while 848 had to wait more than two hours.
In the Southern Trust, 1,789 patients were seen within the timeframe and 273 were not, while its health teams had to deal with 20 mental health referrals from outside its catchment area.
The Western Trust did not provide any information to PPR, saying it had no data on the issue because it was unable to “extract” the details.
PPR’s Campaign Organiser Sara Boyce said the breaches by the health trusts “looks like a free-for-all” when it comes to the performance of the authorities, including the Department of Health.
“This is just the latest, shocking example of a serious lack of compliance and oversight in relation to mental health performance data,” she said.
Despite the existence of an official target in respect of waiting times for mental health assessments at hospital emergency departments, Boyce claimed the trusts “appear to be doing their own thing while the Department sits on its hands”.
“This includes not collecting data at all, no data on waiting times beyond two hours and not providing data previously provided in 2020.”
In September 2021, the UK Office for Statistical Regulation published a highly critical report on mental health data in Northern Ireland.
It recommended that the Department of Health consider developing a separate data strategy to support the 10-year mental health strategy.
“We have yet to hear from Health Minister Robin Swann and the Department of Health on how they intend to respond to this report.
“Individuals and families campaigning for these changes are only too aware that good quality, reliable, accessible data is a pre-requisite for holding government to account.”
Boyce said the “continued failure to provide this information knowingly undermines and frustrates this central tenet of democracy”.
She added: “It is now time for a new approach to mental health, one which is based on human rights principles, with transparency and accountability at its foundation.”
In response, a Department of Health spokesman said it and Minister Swann “recognise the need for significant and sustained improvement and investment in mental health services”.
He said plans being progressed under the 10-year mental health strategy include a Regional Mental Health Crisis Service, that will provide enhanced province-wide help and support for persons in mental health or suicidal crisis.
“However, delivery will be dependent on the provision of additional and sustained funding. To outline the investment needed for mental health, a funding plan was published alongside the strategy. This plan identified an estimated revenue investment needed to be between £112.36m and £158.15m per annum.
“There is also an estimated capital investment needed of £284.97m to £287.07m. Of this, £206m represents an existing commitment to build three new mental health facilities.”
The total funding required over 10 years to fully implement the strategy amounts to over £1.2bn.
“Going forward, there is a focus on providing regional consistency of service provision across Northern Ireland so that patients and service users receive a consistent and high-quality level of service, no matter where they present,” said the spokesman.