About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) provides an update on how long people waited to start treatment with psychological therapies provided by NHS Scotland, for the quarter ending December 2020.

NHS Boards made changes to their service delivery in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All NHS Boards have advised that the measures put in place have had an impact on their figures. More information can be found in the Data Quality document (from the data files section of this page).

Main points

For the quarter ending December 2020:

  • 17,023 people started psychological therapies treatment in NHS Boards and NHS 24. This is an increase of 13.4% (2,005) from the previous quarter, and a decrease of 0.8% (137) from the same quarter the previous year.
  • Half of the people started their treatment within 2 weeks.
  • Four out of five (80.0%) people started their treatment within 18 weeks, compared to 75.2% for the previous quarter, and 79.0% for the quarter ending December 2019. The Scottish Government standard states that 90% of people should start their treatment within 18 weeks of referral to psychological therapies.
Image caption Percentage of patients who started treatment for Psychological Therapies within 18 weeks of referral by quarter
Percentage of patients who started treatment for Psychological Therapies within 18 weeks of referral by quarter
  • 965 people aged 65+ years started treatment with psychological therapies in this quarter. 4% started their treatment within 18 weeks, an increase from 75.0% in the previous quarter and a decrease from 89.9% for the quarter ending December 2019.
  • Changes in working practices, including staff being re-deployed and the provision of on-line appointments (which not all patients wished to take up) during the pandemic led to fewer people starting treatment during this time. However, for this quarter activity has increased to pre-Covid levels.
  • The number of referrals are similar to pre-Covid levels, with 38,603 people being referred for psychological therapies (and in some cases further adult mental health services) in Scotland (see Data Quality Document). This is a 12.8% (4,393) increase from the 34,210 people referred in the previous quarter, and a 0.3% (103) decrease from the same quarter ending December 2019 (38,706 referrals).


Waiting times information for psychological therapies is still being developed. NHS Boards are working with PHS and the Scottish Government to improve the consistency and completeness of the information.

Psychological therapies refer to a range of interventions, based on psychological concepts and theory, which are designed to help people understand and make changes to their thinking, behaviour and relationships in order to relieve distress and to improve functioning. The standard applies specifically to psychological therapies for treatment of a mental illness or disorder.

During national lockdown, GP Practices and Mental Health services moved to limited face to face consultations, replaced with telephone and video consultations. Between May-September, referrals have been increasing again as GP practices adapt their working, and we are starting to see a return to pre-Covid levels.

Please see the full report for more information on the data quality.

Further information

The latest report and data tables are available from the data files section at the top of this page. Background and further information is available online, on former ISD webpages (external website) which remain accessible.

The Psychology Workforce Planning Project (external website) was initiated in 2001 and is a collaboration between NHS Education for Scotland (NES) and Public Health Scotland.

For related topics, please see either the Waiting Times (external website) or MHAIST (external website) pages.

The next release of this publication will be June 2021.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.psychtherapies@phs.scot.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

Requesting other formats and reporting issues

If you require publications or documents in other formats, please email phs.otherformats@phs.scot.

To report any issues with a publication, please email phs.generalpublications@phs.scot.

Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 13 June 2022
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