Children in ‘appalling’ waits for mental health support

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Lib Dem MSP

A government target for treating young people with mental health problems has been breached more than 1.2 million times in Scotland in three years.

They have collectively waited 285,590 days longer than the 18-week legal maximum for those referred for treatment at CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) so far this financial year.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, who obtained the data from health boards, said the figures are “appalling”.

In Fife, the number of extra days waiting for treatment is 63,126 for 2017/18, which is already nearly double the 2014/15 figure of 34,839.

NHS Tayside has seen a drop since posting a nationwide high of 173,631 days in 2014/15, although there is limited data available for this financial year. In 2016/17, it had fallen to 1,913.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Lib Dem MSP, said: “We knew that performance against this flagship mental health target was bad, but to breach it by more than 1.2 million days is an appalling revelation.

“That means those children for whom the target is missed are on average waiting a further 120 days for the treatment they desperately need.”

He added the “pitiful” extra cash announced in the draft Budget last month for mental health “doesn’t get close to addressing the scale of the problem”.

The Scottish Government target demands that 90% of patients start their treatment within 18 weeks of being referred to CAMHS.

Health chiefs at NHS Fife say they have reorganised their service to reduce waiting times.

That includes creating new posts such as health psychologist and a team of primary mental health workers.

The health board says their new approach will “support a wide range of frontline children’s services, working with children and young people at an earlier stage and significantly improving our capacity to meet the challenge of increased demand on our services”.

Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said they are “disappointed” that not all health boards are meeting the target.

“The draft Budget increases the health resource budget by more than £400m, taking it to a record high of over £13.1bn,” she added.

“This includes increased investment in mental health, including child and adolescent mental health – and we are determined to reduce waiting times. We have allocated £95,000 to establish a Youth Commission on Mental Health Services.

“We have invested in a comprehensive package of support to deliver sustained improvements, including investment in staffing, which has seen the CAHMS workforce increase by over 65% and the number of CAMHS psychologists more than double since 2007.

“Improvement teams continue to work with boards to enhance services and deliver the sustained action needed.”