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Mental health targets ignored.

Some mental health patients in England are being denied the prompt treatment promised by the government, recent figures show.

The target timeline, intensive treatment within two weeks, was introduced in April 2016 to give mental health the same referral priority as cancer.

However, Freedom of Information (FOI) figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats suggest a quarter of clinical commissioning groups are ignoring the target.

The waiting-time target requires that any patient aged 14 to 65 experiencing their first psychotic episode, which can involve delusions or hallucinations, receive treatment within two weeks of referral.

But a FOI request, sent to 209 CCGs in England by the Liberal Democrats, shows that in some areas this is not happening.

Of those that responded (170 out of the 209), 23% said they had applied the target only to patients aged between 14 and 35. More than three-quarters of these had no firm plans to extend it from 35-year-olds to those aged 65.

The package of intensive treatment that should be provided, known as early intervention in psychosis (EIP), involves support for patients from a range of health professionals, including psychiatrists, mental health nurses and social workers, and should match the "best practice" blueprint contained in guidelines laid down by clinical watchdog NICE.

NHS England estimates EIP should cost the NHS £8,250 a year per patient. Around 64% of the CCGs that responded to the FOI request could not say what they were spending on EIP, another 29% said they were spending below £8,250 per patient. Meanwhile, 32% of the CCGs could not say what their overall planned spending on EIP would be.

Liberal Democrats health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "It shows that across the country people are not getting the evidence-based treatment set out in the programme.”

An NHS England representative said: "There will be extra funding for 10% more people to be treated in two weeks from 2017-18, building to £70m a year by 2020-21. The evidence stacks up that these services help people recover and gain a good quality of life."