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Fife mental health patients ‘let down’ by NHS pressures

Alex Rowley
Alex Rowley

Mental health patients are being let down by pressures on the NHS, according to a Fife MSP.

Increasing numbers face lengthy waits for the treatment “they desperately need”.

Mid Scotland and Fife Labour politician Alex Rowley has voiced grave concerns after latest figures showed more than a third of patients are waiting more than 18 weeks to be seen for both psychological therapies and child and adolescent mental health services in Fife.

According to ISD statistics for October to December 37.5% of patients on waiting lists have breached the 18-week point despite the Scottish Government’s target of 90% of patients starting treatment within that timeframe.

At the end of the year, 3,039 patients on psychological therapies waiting lists were still waiting to be seen, with 147 patients having waited more than a year.

The statistics are coupled with an increase in patients waiting longer than the 18-week target for child and adolescent mental health services.

More than 36% of young people had to wait more than 18 weeks before being seen for treatment by NHS Fife, nearly a 13% increase on the previous year end quarter.

There has also been a large increase in the number of young people waiting between 36 and 52 weeks, increasing each quarter from 2.6% in December 2016 to 14.9% in December 2017.

Mr Rowley said: “These figures make for sobering reading.

“I have been raising concerns about the pressures facing our NHS for some time in regard to mental health provision.

“What this shows is that the health service is struggling to cope with the demand.

“It is saddening to see so many people waiting so long for treatment that they desperately need, particularly given that investment in mental health services should be one of our top priorities, particularly child mental health.

“This issue needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“It is clear that mental health services in Fife are failing to support all those who need support and this is not acceptable.”

Ministerial visit

Scotland’s mental health minister will meet with NHS Fife to “better understand” issues it is facing over waiting times.

Both NHS Fife and Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said demand for services is rising.

Fife Health and Social Care partnership divisional general manager Julie Paterson said referrals have grown year-on-year in line with national trends.

“We continue to work hard to ensure that children, young people and adults are seen in a timely manner, including same day responses to those in most urgent need,” she stressed.

Ms Paterson said a number of initiatives were progressing, including early intervention in collaboration with partners such as teachers or school nurses to address and support good mental health at an early stage.

These also include the development of additional group therapy programmes and additional clinical time to see people who need specialist support.

“Progress is ongoing with waiting times continuing to improve and Fife having one of the lowest national admission rates to inpatient units for children and young people.

“We remain wholly committed to ensuring a quality, responsive service to adults, children and young people who require specialist mental health services in Fife.”

The mental health minister added: “Demand for mental health services is increasing as people become more aware of both mental health problems and of the care available, but there are too many people who are experiencing waits that are too long.

“To support delivery of our mental health strategy we are providing £150 million of extra funding, this includes £54m to help boards improve their performance against waiting times targets by investing in workforce development, recruitment and retention, and service improvement support.

“As part of this £4.6m has been allocated to improve access to mental health services across Scotland, through this funding work is taking place with NHS Fife to improve their mental health waiting times.

“NHS Fife is one of a number of boards I will be meeting with directly to better understand the issues they are facing.”