Fewer children treated within mental health waiting time target
The Scottish Government has been accused of “failing young people” after new figures showed a fall in the proportion of children and young people seen within 18 weeks of a referral for mental health treatment.
The data also revealed that more children are waiting more than a year and hundreds are being rejected for treatment.
It prompted an immediate reaction from opposition politicians, who branded the figures “appalling” and demanded more investment, and an urgent review of child and adolescent mental health services (CAHMS).
Between July and September 2019, 64.5 per cent of young people were seen within the 18-week target, compared to 69.7 per cent the previous quarter and 69 per cent for the same quarter last year.
The Scottish Government states that 90 per cent should start treatment within 18 weeks of referral.
There has also been a sharp rise in the number of children waiting more than a year for mental health treatment.
A total of 204 people waited more than a year, more than double the 93 who waited that long during the same quarter last year and up from 151 the previous quarter.
The data also revealed that 1,619 children were rejected for treatment in the last quarter.
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), a coalition of young people’s service providers, said the figures reinforced their call for “dramatically increased investment in mental health services to address the current mental health crisis”.
SCSC pointed to the “very low” investment in CAHMS, accounting for 6.61 per cent of the overall mental health budget.
They said this was in spite of research suggesting that 10 per cent of five to 16-year-olds have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem (around three in every classroom), while half of mental health problems are established by age 14 and three quarters by age 24.
The Scottish Government announced an additional £250m for CAMHS last year, but while acknowledging that effort, SCSC called for much greater investment and a renewed focus on prevention, including embedding mental health within education from an early age.
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton reiterated demands for increased investment and called for the Scottish Government to publish its overdue integrated workforce plan, setting out how it intends to meet the NHS’s staffing needs.
He said: "Just last week the government denied there was a mental health crisis. Today, the length of time children and young people are waiting for treatment is the worst on record. Performance has plummeted.
"The SNP government is failing a generation of young people and the consequences of their waiting up to two years for treatment are heart-breaking. Problems that start small are becoming crises as help arrives too late.”
The Scottish Greens called for an urgent review of CAHMS.
Alison Johnstone MSP said: “When young people in distress cannot access treatment when they need it, something has gone terribly wrong.
“The Scottish Government needs to review this situation urgently and ensure services are getting the support they need to meet demand, or Scotland’s young people will continue to suffer.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Monica Lennon MSP said: “These new figures reveal what we already know – on access to mental health services, the SNP are failing Scotland’s young people.
“It’s just not good enough that in 2019 thousands of young people have waited over four months to be seen by specialist mental health services, and hundreds have had to wait over a year.
“At a time when we know youth suicides have been increasing these figures should shame SNP ministers into action.”
Scottish Conservative mental health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “This is yet another appalling failure from an SNP government that’s been distracted by issues elsewhere.
“Ensuring our young people have access to thorough and prompt mental health treatment should be a priority for this nationalist government.
“Instead, it spends all its time grandstanding and trying to break up the UK.”
The health boards failing to meet the 18-week target are: NHS Ayrshire & Arran (where 78.1 per cent of children and young people were seen within 18 weeks), NHS Fife (75.2 per cent), NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde (71.2 per cent), NHS Highland (64.1 per cent), NHS Forth Valley (63.8 per cent), NHS Lothian (55.9 per cent), NHS Tayside (54.2 per cent), NHS Lanarkshire (51.9 per cent) and NHS Grampian (50.8 per cent).
NHS Borders, NHS Western Isles, NHS Orkney, NHS Shetland and NHS Dumfries & Galloway met the target.
Billy Watson, chief executive of the Scottish Mental Health Association (SAMH), renewed calls for the Scottish Government urgently to deliver on its commitment to develop services for young people who had been rejected for treatment. He said: “It’s unacceptable that so many young people in Scotland are still not getting access to the mental health support they need. Young people are being rejected from mental health services across Scotland and families are being left unsupported.
“Eighteen months ago, the Scottish Government accepted all the recommendations in a major report on rejected referrals. Since then, over 9,000 young people have been told they won’t receive help. While we recognise that the Scottish Government is taking steps to develop services in this area, more needs to be done.”
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. This includes the roll-out of our £250 million package of measures to support positive mental health for all.
“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.
“Since 2007, CAMHS staffing has increased by 74 per cent and in the past year, we have seen an increase of 1.2% - the majority of which was in psychology staff - while we continue to create new posts in this area.
“This year’s Programme for Government builds on this progress even further. That includes putting in place community wellbeing 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.”