Number of youngsters in Scotland waiting over a year for CAMHS help doubles

The number of children and young people waiting a year or more for specialist mental health care has increased by almost 115% in the last 12 months – with “frightening statistics” showing 1,686 patients in this situation.

The total, from the end of June 2021, was down from a high in March of 2,012 youngsters who had been waiting at least 12 months to get help from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

It is up from the 787 recorded in June 2020 – an increase of 114.2%, Public Health Scotland data showed.

Meanwhile, 452 of the 4,552 patients who started CAMHS treatment over the period April to June had waited a minimum of a year for their initial appointment.

The Scottish Government has set the target of having 90% of youngsters who need CAMHS help start treatment within 18 weeks.

This target was only achieved for 72.6% in the three months to the end of June, the figures showed, broadly similar to the 72.4% achieved in the previous quarter.

At the end of June 2021 there were 11,722 children and young people who were waiting to start CAMHS treatment in Scotland – and 5,423 of them had been on the list for longer than the target time.

As of June 30 there were 2,470 youngsters who had been waiting 19 to 35 weeks, and 1,267 for between 36 and 52 weeks, as well as the 1,686 waiting a year or more.

The waits were revealed at the same time as the data showed that 10,193 children and young people were referred to CAMHS for help in the period April to June – up from 7,883 the previous quarter and more than 150% higher than the 4,052 referrals made in April to June 2020.

Dr Helen Smith of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “It’s shocking that one in 10 children and young people in Scotland are now being referred to CAMHS and what we need now is real resources, not cosmetic changes.

“Most of the vulnerable young people we see have mental health problems that have been affected adversely by the pandemic, including heightened anxiety, eating disorders and depression.”

She added that “to fix this problem and to keep up with demand” investment must be “delivered urgently”, along with 320 new specialist CAMHS staff.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), which represents those providing care for children and young people, also insisted a significant increase in funding was needed.

A spokesman said: “These frightening statistics highlight the challenges ahead and while we welcome a commitment by the Scottish Government to increase investment in mental health services to 1% of NHS spending over the next five years, we need this investment now.

“We have for some time raised concerns over a potential lost generation of vulnerable children and young people, whose mental health is being impacted even further by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is more important than ever that children can access the support they need, when they need it, irrespective of where they live.”

Opposition politicians also voiced concern, with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton saying: “It is devastating for children and their families that so many have to wait over 18 weeks for treatment, let alone over a year.

“After everything they have been through, nobody deserves to be met by a wait for help that must feel endless.”

Scottish Conservative mental health spokesman Craig Hoy said: “It is an absolute scandal that so many young people are waiting over a year to begin mental health treatment.

“Even before the pandemic, the SNP routinely failed to ensure its own targets were met. Mental health problems have escalated during the Covid crisis, but ministers have repeatedly failed to get a grip.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise that long waits are unacceptable and we remain committed to meet the standard that 90% of patients begin treatment within 18 weeks of referral in these services.

“We are working closely with health boards to implement new service delivery specifications and all boards are developing recovery plans, which set out how they will meet the 90% waiting times standard. Their implementation will result in shorter waiting times and a better experience for individuals and families supported by our NHS.”

He added that it was “encouraging to see a record number of new patients starting treatment in CAMHS in the last quarter, as our NHS continues to remobilise and patient demand increases”.

The spokesman said: “This has been made possible by the hard work of NHS staff and growth in the CAMHS workforce – which saw a 4.4% increase since March 2020 to the highest staffing levels on record.”

He added that the Scottish Government was “building on this investment, with an additional £34 million provided to NHS boards in 2021-22 to improve services, including action to address waiting lists”.

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