More than one million referrals were made in 2016 to NHS talking therapies for depression and anxiety, according to new data from NHS Digital.

Of 1.4 million new referrals for talking therapies under NHS England’s ambitious Increasing Access to Talking Therapies (IAPT) programme, 965,000 people started treatment, marking a 32,000 rise on patient numbers from 2015.

IAPT, a central strand of NHS England plan to improve mental health services, is an early intervention for patients with conditions such as depression and anxiety that could reduce the need for more intensive and more expensive treatments, and help patients stay in employment.

NHS England plans to expand the service so that at least 1.5 million adults access care each year by 2020/21. This means that IAPT services nationally will move from seeing around 15 percent of all people with anxiety and depression each year to 25 percent.

The analysis of mental health services, put together by NHS Digital, also revealed that waiting times seems to be improving, with 88 percent of people waiting less than 18 weeks for treatment, and nearly nine in ten patients less than six weeks.

Also, recovery rates have improved to an average of 49 percent over the course of the year, while 65 percent of patients showed ‘reliable improvement’ as a result of treatment, NHS England noted.

“Ever increasing numbers of people are getting treated by the NHS and recovering from mental ill health,” said Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for Mental Health.

“Talking therapists in the NHS helped nearly one million people last year, and not only are more patients getting help more quickly, but their chances of recovering, thanks to NHS support, are improving significantly.”

But she also stressed that “raising standards of care to a consistently high level will take further years of hard work and continued investment.”