Councillors on the border of Hampshire and Wiltshire have criticised “shocking” differences in mental health waiting times between the two counties.

Waiting times for talking therapies, which are used to treat conditions including depression, differ depending which side of the border you are on. While both sides meet current guidelines, Wiltshire sees over 20 per cent of those yet to have a first treatment waiting for more than 18 weeks. In Hampshire, the equivalent figure is slightly above 0.4 per cent.

Tidworth councillors, including the mayor, have vowed to find out what is being done to reduce these waiting times.

Cllr Mark Connolly said that the issue was “clearly not acceptable for those that need help now.”

Meanwhile, fellow politician Cllr Abe Allen said that people in Tidworth and across Wiltshire “deserve a better mental health provision.”

Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (AWP) did not respond to a request for comment.

IAPT, or Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, is a flagship NHS programme treating a range of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression with talking therapies, and is provided by organisations across the country.

These differ by area, with mental health services in Wiltshire primarily given by AWP, while those in Hampshire are provided by Southern Health. Both serve a population of around 1.8 million people, which in the former’s case includes services beyond Wiltshire.

The latest statistics, which represent January 2021, portray a difference between both providers. For AWP, 5635 people had an open referral to talking therapies, but had no activity with them in 120 days. For Southern Health, the figure is 740. Meanwhile, 625 of those referred to AWP were yet to have an assessment after waiting over 90 days, with 155 in the same situation with Southern Health.

Waiting times also show a divergence. 510 had yet to have a first treatment with AWP at the end of the reporting period, of which 110 of these had waited over 18 weeks. With Southern Health, 1230 were in a similar situation, but only five had waited over 18 weeks.

While these differences appear significant, it is worth bearing in mind that differences between both areas, and impacts during this reporting period, may be responsible for the figures, rather than the actions of the trusts themselves.

However, the difference is significant enough to councillors on the border of Hampshire and Wiltshire that they have called for action on waiting times for mental health. The issue is especially pointed in Tidworth, which is now in Wiltshire but parts of which were in Hampshire until the 1990s.

They say constituents, who have families on both sides of the border, have been contacting them about the “remarkable difference” between waiting times on either side.

Cllr Allen said: “With the throw of a stone, a resident on one side of the border can benefit from rapid access to mental health services, while residents on my side of the border are faced with excruciating waiting times.”

He said he had personal experience of undergoing mental health support with a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy when he used to live in Hampshire, and said that it took a matter of weeks from initial appointment to completion.

“Physical health is always put first, which I get,” he said, “but if you allow mental health to deteriorate you then end up with a mental health and a physical health problem.”

Cllr Connolly echoed his concerns, saying: “It is quite frankly shocking the difference in waiting times.”

Both have pledged to raise the issue with health officials and leaders across the county. Cllr Connolly said: “I will certainly raise this issue with the appropriate authorities to see what is being done to reduce the waiting times. This is clearly not acceptable for those that need help now.”

Cllr Allen, meanwhile, said he had written to AWP’s Chief Executive, as well as the Wiltshire Council cabinet member for adult social care, to set out his concerns.

“I’m not pointing fingers at anyone,” he said, £but I’ve asked what I can do to work constructively with them to improve the service here in Wiltshire and hopefully to bring it on par with Hampshire.”

He suggested that local campaigning may be needed to attract greater investment in mental health services, or that mental health services could be reformed.

AWP did not respond to the Advertiser’s request for comment. However, according to national statistics, 85 per cent of those finishing IAPT with AWP in Wiltshire waited six weeks or less, while 99 per cent were seen in 18 weeks.