Hundreds of Scots children waiting 52 weeks or more for specialist mental health care

Almost 600 children have been waiting more than a year for specialist mental health care, according to new figures.

NHS data from the end of December 2019 reveals 589 youngsters had been on the waiting list for 52 weeks or more to get an appointment with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)

Meanwhile, 272 children and young people who were seen for the first time in the last three months of 2019 had waited over a year for their appointment.

Opposition MSPs said the statistics showed the Scottish Government was “failing a generation of young people”.

By the end of December 2019, there were 10,820 children and young people waiting for CAMHS help – up from a total of 9,337 the previous year.

According to the report, the number waiting for treatment has gone from a low of 7,620 in the last three months of 2017 to a high of 10,820 at the end of the most recent quarter.

Meanwhile, the number who started receiving help fell.

Over October to December 2019, 3,884 children and young people started treatment with CAMHS, a drop of 14.1% from the total of 4,523 that had been recorded in the same period in 2018.

The Scottish Government has set the target for 90% of patients being seen within 18 weeks – but in 2019 there were 5,027 children and young people who waited longer than this to start receiving help.

In the final three months of the year, the target was was achieved for just two-thirds (66.4%) of youngsters – down from the 72.8% who were seen within this time in the last quarter of 2018.

The most recent figures showed while some health boards exceeded the 90% target – NHS Borders, NHS Orkney and NHS Western Isles – others did not.

Fewer than three out of five CAMHS patients were seen within 18 weeks at three health boards – with NHS Tayside seeing 57.4% of youngsters within this target time, while NHS Forth Valley and NHS Lanarkshire achieved 57.7% and 57.8% respectively.

For NHS Lothian, more than a quarter (27.2%) of patients who started treatment in period October to December 2019 had waited more than a year for this.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “At the same time as these unbearable waits were being recorded, SNP ministers at Parliament were voting to deny that there is a mental health crisis in Scotland.

“These statistics show how wrong that was.

“Staff are working around the clock but they aren’t getting anywhere close to the support and resources they need.”

Labour MSP Mary Fee said: “These new figures show what we have known now for some time – the SNP is failing Scotland’s young people.

“At a time when youth suicides have been increasing these figures should shame SNP ministers into action.”

Children’s campaigners at Barnardo’s Scotland stressed the CAMHS statistics were “just a small part of the bigger picture of children and young people’s mental health and well-being”.

David Ferguson, assistant director of policy and influencing for the charity, said: “There is a danger that too much of a focus on waiting times for specialist services is distracting us from thinking more innovatively about potential solutions to the problems facing our children and young people.

“We believe that children and young people’s mental health and well-being could be vastly improved if the right support was available for the adults who care for them every day.”

Mental health minister Clare Haughey said “To shorten waits for treatment, we are making significant changes to meet increasing demand and to ensure everyone gets the right treatment at the right time and in the right place.

“Since 2007, CAMHS staffing has increased by 76% and in the past year we have seen an increase of 1.3% – the majority of which was in psychology staff – while we continue to create new posts in this area.

“We are also strengthening the support available in communities and schools with mental health first aid training for local authorities, ensuring every secondary school has access to a counselling service by September 2020 and training 250 additional school nurses over the next three years, with 50 already in place this year.”

She added: “This year’s Programme for Government builds on this progress even further.

“That includes putting in place community well-being services for children and young people aged five to 24 and their families across the whole of Scotland, a new 24/7 crisis support service for children and young people and a new Adult Mental Health Collaborative so public services, the third sector and communities can work closer together to improve support to people suffering from mental ill health.”

Dr Justin Williams, vice-chairman of the CAMHS faulty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “Whilst the Scottish Government keep making promises about more funding, we are yet to see this delivered to front-line specialist services.

“It remains the case that child and adolescent mental health services are grossly underfunded, with only 0.5% of the NHS budget spent on them, despite mental disorder being the most common form of disability affecting young people.”

He added: “Deaths from suicide and drug misuse continue to climb and these can usually be traced back to problems that start in youth.

“Until the Scottish Government starts taking specialist mental health of our young people seriously, instead of just paying lip service, the increasing rates we are seeing are just going to keep growing.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c)