Exclusive: New figures show increased waiting times for counselling at Bristol
Over 240 people are on the waiting list
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that Bristol University students are waiting longer for counselling in 2017/18 than in 2016/17.
According to the figures, the wait for students to go from referral to assessment has risen from 10 days on average in 2016/17 to 13 days in 2017/18 as of November 2017.
During the same period, the wait for students to go from assessment to counselling and get regular support has jumped from 18 days to 24 days as of 31st January 2018.*
The figures also revealed that as of 9th March 2018 there were a total of 244 individuals on the waiting list- around 1 per cent of the Bristol University student body. This figure included those awaiting assessment and for a particular service such as regular counselling or to be seen by the Mental Health Advisory service.
The news comes at a time when the role of student services at the University of Bristol is under increased media focus. In the twenty months since September 2016, there have been at least nine students who are believed to have taken their own lives at the University of Bristol, with two more cases at the University of the West of England.
In December 2016 The Tab interviewed two Senior Residents about the role of hall staff within the pastoral care system whilst in March 2017 four students spoke candidly about their experiences dealing with mental health services at Bristol. A year on, it appears that there are still considerable bottlenecks in accessing support.
One languages student told The Tab: "In terms of student counselling, it was a good experience overall, but the wait time was disgusting. I got an initial assessment appointment in around 2-3 weeks, which was fine, but then it was six weeks wait to actually start counselling. For me, not a major problem, but for people who need help urgently, things could go awfully wrong in that time."
They continued: "I was also informed that students used to be offered six sessions, but due to demand and lack of staff, they could only offer four. They also offered me a trainee counsellor 'to get seen sooner'. Apparently they’re fully trained and just gaining experience, but I didn’t want to.
"I felt like it was a good experience overall, as it did what I needed for me. However, the wait times are unacceptable, and both counsellors I saw (initial assessment and the main one) seemed rushed and stressed, and apologetic about the lack of sessions. It always felt like there was time pressure to get through everything in the four sessions, which wasn’t overly helpful. For people in bad mental states, it must be really hard and dangerous for them to go through the process."
Another second year student added: "Although I was seen quickly due to the nature of my issues, I was quickly told they wouldn’t be able to help me and I would have to do a self referral to an NHS system. I’m still sporadically seeing a university counsellor but speaking to someone once a month for half an hour evidently isn’t an ideal solution. My counsellor is lovely but the system is unhelpful and just doesn’t work."
Asked for comment, a University of Bristol spokesman said: "Reflecting global and national mental health trends, we have experienced a 20 percent increase in the number of students registering with the Student Counselling Service compared with the same period last year (2,739 students between August 2017 and March 2018), and an annual increase of 10 percent per annum over the last few years. The Student Wellbeing Service and other areas in the Student Services Division have experienced a similar increase in demand.
"To meet this growing demand, we have invested significantly in our services and, as such, remain within our targets for seeing students for both assessments and regular counselling sessions. Currently our waiting times for assessment are lower than in 2015/16 and continue to compare very favourably to NHS services wait times in the wider community. We continually and actively monitor waiting times to ensure students are seen as quickly as possible."
"We have been working constantly to improve both the range, capacity and responsiveness of our support services. In particular, we will always aim to prioritise support for those students with the most urgent need."
"We have appointed two specialist Mental Health Advisors to provide support to students with complex mental health needs. This has allowed us to work more proactively with those students with severe and enduring mental health difficulties who may need timely and more specialised support.
"In the last year, we have provided 1,821 hours of additional counselling sessions at peak times, extending weekend services through the spring term. There has also been more investment to increase the number of same day GP mental health appointments, and to extend the length of available appointments.
"We have been making good progress with the complex task of establishing the new Student Wellbeing Service. We have already appointed the senior team who manage the most complex cases and eight additional wellbeing advisers to make a team of 15 staff, with an additional 18 who will be appointed before the end of May.
"These staff provide front line mental health and wellbeing support to students, and the 24 advisers will physically work within Schools from September 2018. Those staff already appointed have had comprehensive training over an extended period. The Student Wellbeing Service has already supported over 750 students this year including working with 250 students at the present time.
"In times of crisis, students can also access support from specialist services such as The Samaritans. Information about accessing the University’s support services can be found on our website under our staff and student pages."
*For the purpose of clarity, these figures have all been rounded up. The original figures were 9.7 days and 12.6 days for the wait for assessment and 17.5 and 23.8 days for the wait for regular support.