Hundreds of Tayside children have been turned away from specialist mental health support despite a rise in GP referrals, according to new data.
Figures released by Public Health Scotland show a steady rise in the number of under-18s seeking support from the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), with 616 referrals made from October to December 2020.
Of those, 232 were rejected for not meeting NHS Tayside’s specific criteria, leading to fears from mental health charities.
The number of children seeking support has also surged as referrals from the same period in 2019 show 527 referrals were made and 306 were accepted by the service.
NHS Tayside said there are a number of reasons why referrals are refused and children are offered alternative support through universal or community programmes.
However Jo Anderson, director of external affairs at SAMH, said: “Scotland’s mental health services were struggling before the pandemic and today’s figures demonstrate once again that we need a radical new plan.
“Young people deserve the right to get help the first time they ask, without fear that they will be turned away. And the need for quick access to psychological wellbeing support has never been greater.”
But NHS Tayside is one of just five local authorities meeting the Scottish Government’s 18 week waiting time pledge.
Young people deserve the right to get help the first time they ask, without fear that they will be turned away.”
Jo Anderson, SAMH
Around 94% of youngsters saw a specialist within 18 weeks between October and December which is above the national target of 90%.
An NHS Tayside spokeswoman said: “NHS Tayside is currently meeting the 18 week national waiting times target for mental health. The service is currently developing measures to continually improve on waiting times.
“Additional nursing staff have been recruited to provide more support to children and young people over the coming months.”
During the pandemic, some specialists have had to deliver face-to-face appointments for local children.
The health board says it has allowed the service to offer flexible appointments and has reduced the waiting times for treatment.
On referrals, the spokeswoman added: “All referrals to CAMHS are assessed on an individual basis by our referral management team, which consists of senior nursing, psychology and medical clinicians.
“There are many reasons why referrals may not be appropriate for a specialist CAHMS service.
“The referral management team frequently receives referrals which do not meet the specific CAMHS criteria that would be more appropriately managed by universal services or community supports.
“When these referrals have been assessed the team will signpost referrers to the resources and supports available.”
The referral management team frequently receives referrals which do not meet the specific CAMHS criteria that would be more appropriately managed by universal services or community supports.”
Experienced CAMHS nurses assess children in GP practices in Dundee to ensure they receive the most appropriate care, they added.
In Scotland, almost three quarters of children started treatment with 18 weeks between October and December.
It is an improvement on the previous end of year quarter, at 61%, but below the national target of 90%.
There has also been a 16% increase in the number of children waiting a year or more for treatment.
Mental health minister Clare Haughey said: “It is encouraging that we have seen a significant increase in performance this quarter, which demonstrates the priority we have placed on CAMHS as we move through phases of recovery from the pandemic.
“CAMHS staffing has also increased, and we will continue to expand the workforce by creating new posts in this area.”
However she said long waiting times were unacceptable and welcomed the announcement of £120 million for a mental health recovery and renewal fund which will prioritise CAMHS services and address waiting list backlogs.