The number of people in the region waiting more than a year for NHS mental health support is larger than the population of Long Stratton, shocking new figures have shown.

Some 5,600 people have been on waiting lists for more than 12 months to be seen by staff at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), with more than 4,000 of them yet to even have their needs assessed.

The figures, revealed by a whistleblower at the trust, raise fresh fears over the provision of mental health care in the region and cast doubt on claims the organisation is making rapid improvements.

The NSFT has struggled with poor performance ever since it was established in 2012. It has been placed in special measures four times since then and has been described as the worst mental health trust in the country.

Its new chief executive Caroline Donovan, who started in October, has said that reducing the 52-week waiting list is a top priority.

However, the new figures show that the number of patients on waiting lists has been steadily increasing over the past six months.



Campaigners and families of mental health patients have raised alarm over the data. 

Caroline Aldridge, whose son Tim died while on an NSFT waiting list, said the figures "show a grim and shocking truth".

"Repeatedly, NSFT statements say they are on a rapid and much-needed journey of improvement - they have been on a rapid journey for a decade.

"These waiting times reflect people suffering distress and being unable to get the support they need from mental health services.

"In that time people's health often deteriorates and can impact every aspect of their lives. The human cost is incalculable and some simply can not hold on long enough."

Eastern Daily Press: Tim Shanahan, who died while waiting for an NSFT appointment in 2014Tim Shanahan, who died while waiting for an NSFT appointment in 2014 (Image: Caroline Aldridge)

Mrs Aldridge has turned the story of the loss of her son, Tim Shanahan, into a book called He Died Waiting.

The 30-year-old was found dead at his home in Chantry Road, Norwich in 2014. An inquest into his death, which recorded an open verdict, was told of his mental health problems and struggled to receive care.

Mrs Aldridge, from north Norfolk, said the figures showed the situation had not been addressed and could worsen.

"All this is happening in plain sight and the whole system knows NSFT is not fit for purpose," she said.

Eastern Daily Press: Caroline Aldridge with her book He Died Waiting about her son Tim. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY"These figures show just how empty, meaningless and dishonest all the promises are. 

"For too many families, these failings mean their loved one is forever gone."



The data shows that as of this month, there were 5,491 people in Norfolk and Suffolk who have been waiting a year or more for their treatment to begin. By contrast, the population of Long Stratton is around 4,000.

In October, around 4,000 were on the waiting list.

Of those still on the list, 4,197 are yet to have their needs assessed - a process which is used to ascertain the level of support they require.

This means these people are effectively left in a limbo between services, preventing early interventions before their conditions worsen.



Edel McGinley, interim director of operations at NSFT, said the growth in these numbers was largely driven by a surge in demand for adults seeking assessments for neurodiverse conditions such as ADHD and autism.

She said another factor was an increase in the needs of children and young people following the Covid pandemic.

She said: "What we have been trying to do is identify those who are experiencing the greatest impact on the functionality of their lives and get to these people first. 

"As an organisation, we are reaching out to other parts of the country with good processes and taking advice from them. 

"We can not do this on our own though and need the support of partner organisations and the voluntary sector to ensure the care is there in the interim.

"However there is a real sense of energy within the trust and positivity about where we are heading."

The surge in demand for ADHD assessments in particular follows a national trend with an increased awareness of these conditions through social media in recent months.

Ms McGinley added: "This is not exclusive to Norfolk and Suffolk - increasing demand is reflected across the country.

"We can not delete the list overnight."