HEALTH chiefs in Blackburn with Darwen have won praise after the waiting time for counselling in the borough was slashed from one year to just one week.

Last June the Lancashire Telegraph revealed how patients suffering from depression were waiting 53 weeks to see an NHS counsellor, despite a target waiting time of just 28 days.

The shock figure prompted fears that help could be offered too late for some patients with undetected suicidal tendencies.

There was also a year-long wait for cognitive behavioural therapy, but this has now been reduced to four weeks.

The services are delivered by Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, but the improvements were made after an intervention from Blackburn with Darwen Clinical Commissioning Group [CCG], which controls health budgets in the borough.

Debbie Nixon, the CCG’s chief operating officer, said a recovery plan had been agreed with the trust and extra funding and counsellors made available to clear a backlog of patients. She added: “It was brought to the attention of the CCG that we had a 53 week wait for counselling and we took a view that that was not acceptable.”

Dr Tom Phillips, executive member, said the service had been ‘unusable’, but the waiting times in Blackburn with Darwen are now ‘far better now than anywhere else in Lancashire’.

The CCG said the amount of extra funding has yet to be finalised, and refused to give a rough figure.

Russ McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group, said: “I would offer my congratulations to all involved in achieving this.

“I’ve suffered from a mental illness and I think it’s brilliant that it’s been turned around to such a degree. I hope it can be maintained in the long term.”

But Chris Clayton, chief clinical officer of the CCG, sounded a word of caution, saying it would be a challenge to maintain the current performance, as more patients may now want to use the service.

Lancashire Care was unavailable for comment.