221 youngsters waiting over a year for mental health treatment, figures show

A total of 221 young Scots have been waiting more than a year for specialist help with mental health problems, new figures have shown.

The statistics – classed as “management information only” as they have not been assessed by statistical regulators – also disclosed there were 197 cases where children were treated on adult wards in 2017-18.

In 255 cases, patients were admitted to child and adolescent units for treatment.

The figures on inpatient admissions were released at the same time as official data showing just four out of 14 health boards in Scotland met the target of having 90% of youngsters accepted by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) start treatment in 18 weeks.

Over the period July to September 4,239 patients started receiving treatment – with more than two thirds (69%) seen within the target time.

While NHS Ayrshire & Arran, NHS Orkney, NHS Shetland and NHS Western Isles all achieved the standard, in NHS Tayside only 35.8% starting getting help within 18 weeks – the lowest in Scotland – and in NHS Borders the proportion was slightly better at 36.2%.

Of those who started treatment in July to September, 93 had waiting for more than a year to be seen – up from 52 in the previous quarter.

Meanwhile at the end of September this year 7,860 children and young people were waiting for help, including 221 who had been on the list for 53 weeks or more.

That compares to 48 patients who had been waiting this long 12 months previously.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said the data showed “we are continuing to fail many of our children and young people with mental health problems”.

The organisation, which brings together organisations working with vulnerable youngsters, called for more money to be put into CAMHS – an area which receives less than 0.5% of the overall NHS budget.

The spokesman said: “No longer can mental health be viewed as a ‘Cinderella service’ and we must put money behind the rhetoric if we are to just keep pace with investment south of the border.

“It is clearly disappointing to note these newly released figures highlighting that the NHS in Scotland, including ten of our health boards, are failing to meet what is already a lengthy waiting time.

“This is no coincidence given that a very small proportion of the overall NHS and mental health budget is being spent on addressing the needs of children and young people, and yet we know that three children in every classroom has a clinically diagnosable mental health problem.

“There must be a radical transformation of our mental health services, with a focus on preventing such problems arising in the first place and intervening early, especially when we know that half of all mental health problems begin before the age of 14.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said it was a “disgrace” the number of youngsters waiting over a year for help was on the rise.

He said: “Mental ill health among this age group is at crisis levels.

“Waiting so long for a substantive intervention can have a devastating impact on them and their families.

“Staff are working around the clock but they aren’t getting anywhere near the support and resources they need. As a result, in some areas just one in three children are treated on time.

“The CAMHS budget must be boosted, mental health beds need to be established north of Dundee and every GP surgery and A&E in the country should have a mental health practitioner capable of treating people.

“That is the level of investment and ambition required if the government is to stop failing a generation of young people.”

A Scottish Government spokesman responded: “We’re clear that we must continue to build services in the community to meet significantly rising demand and take pressure off specialist services.

“That is why we’re investing an additional £250 million into mental health to support measures such as counsellors in every secondary school, improved training for teachers, and more nurses in schools and counsellors in universities and colleges.

“While new waits for specialist treatment still fall well short of our expectations, half of children and young people are starting treatment within 12 weeks.

“Any young person referred to mental health services should be assessed in the period prior to treatment starting, and we expect health boards to provide appropriate support during that period.”