The number of Tayside youngsters waiting to be seen by mental health services is on the rise, according to a new report.
Bosses at NHS Tayside’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) say since September there have been “small but significant” increases.
Under national targets, 90% of those aged 18 and under should be treated within 18 weeks of being referred, which the health board has consistently met over the past year following vast improvement.
However, the latest NHS Tayside Performance Report states this progress is at risk and the recent rise in demand will likely continue with the easing of lockdown and schools reopening.
Dr Helen Smith, chair of the children and adolescent faulty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said the pandemic has only added to an existing problem.
He said: “These statistics from NHS Tayside are alarming and sadly reflect the picture across Scotland.
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen a rise in the number of referrals, but the truth is mental health services for children and young people were already under-resourced, understaffed and short-changed before the Covid-19 crisis hit.”
What is CAMHS?
CAMHS assess and treats young people with emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties.
In 2015, Tayside had the longest waiting times in Scotland with hundreds of children forced to wait six months or more.
One Dundee dad told of a 10-month-wait for doctors to see his seven-year-old daughter while she was convinced men with guns stalked the family home.
Since then, waiting times have been cut significantly.
Dr Smith said the shortfall in psychiatrists is a national problem, adding: “In the run up to the Scottish elections, we’re calling on all political parties to commit 1% of its health budget to CAMHS services by 2026.
“What we have is a potential mental health emergency on our hands which will burden future generations. Funding must be looked at for the sake of our children and young people.”
The report covers the period up to December last year.
It states: “Performance has been sustained at below 18 weeks for the quarter October to December 2020.
“On current projections this performance is expected to be sustained for the current quarter January to March 2021.
“It is noted however, that from September onwards there have been small but significant increases, each month, to overall numbers waiting – this suggests that current performance is unsustainable in the longer term.”
Another area of concern highlighted in the latest report is the paediatric neurodevelopmental department, which treats disorders such as ADHD, autism, and cerebral palsy.
It states: “Paediatric neurodevelopmental waiting times are an increasing concern.
“Demand continues to outstrip capacity despite planned increases in capacity purchased from external provider (Helios).
“Further review of service design and potential for additional improvement will remain a priority for the foreseeable future.”
Across all local NHS services, the number of inpatients waiting longer than the required 84 days is also increasing while the number of new outpatients waiting over 12 weeks is also on the up.
Face-to-face video appointments introduced
The health board is currently in a remobilisation programme which aims to get services back up-and-running to meet pent-up demand.
It says the service is currently developing measures to “continually improve” on waiting times.
A spokesperson said: “NHS Tayside is currently meeting the 18 week National Waiting Times target for Mental Health.
“Additional nursing staff have been recruited to provide more support to children and young people over the coming months.
“The installation of Near Me equipment has been expanded to enable staff during the pandemic to continue to provide outpatient appointments for new assessments, ongoing treatment and continuous review.
“The service is also continuing to work with specialist online CAMHS service Healios to provide face-to-face video appointments for children and young people across Tayside.
“This service allows flexible appointments at times that suit the children and their families and has enabled us to offer appointments sooner and reduce the time that children and their families wait for treatment.”
The spokesperson added: “A text reminder service for appointments has been introduced and we now offer ‘opt in’ appointments, where patients can phone in and arrange an appointment at a suitable time for them.
“Tayside CAMHS website has recently been re-launched and has up-to-date information regarding contacting CAMHS, both in and out of hours, self-help advice and support for children, families and other professionals and links to other useful websites can be found at www.taysidecamhs.scot.nhs.uk
“The service remains committed to making further improvements to ensure all our children and young people receive the best quality care without delays.”