Number of children in Scotland waiting more than a year to be seen by mental health services worst on record

Georgina Hayes
·4 min read
More than 1,500 children had been waiting a year or more for specialist help with mental health problems by the end of 2020
More than 1,500 children had been waiting a year or more for specialist help with mental health problems by the end of 2020

SNP ministers have been accused of presiding over an "unacceptable" mental health record after new figures revealed that the number of children waiting more than a year to be seen by CAMHS is the worst on record.

More than 1,500 children had been waiting a year or more for specialist help with mental health problems by the end of 2020, with the total having increased by almost 165 per cent in 12 months.

The figures also showed that over 11,000 children and young people were waiting to see Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) by the end of the year, a figure branded by campaigners as “deeply troubling”.

Public Health Scotland’s report explained that the rise in waiting numbers was "potentially due to a combination of school closures, some CYP (children and young people) not having access to a safe/confidential space to engage in digital appointments, or have a desire to wait for an in-person appointment".

However, repeated concerns have been raised by experts and campaigners over mental health services in Scotland, with a leading psychiatry body warning last winter that services are not receiving their “fair share” of Government funding.

The Scottish Children's Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance of organisations working with vulnerable young people, say the latest figures "point to a highly challenging environment for both our young people and our mental health services".

While the Scottish Government has recently upped investment in mental health services, a SCSC spokesman warned that "significantly greater funding is needed to address the current crisis facing our children and young people".

"The fact that more than 1,500 of our most vulnerable children have been waiting more than a year for treatment in this respect is deeply disturbing,” he said.

"Our mental health services must receive the funding they vitally need or we face having a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people."

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Meanwhile, data also reveals that the Scottish Government has continued to miss its target of 90 per cet of children and young people starting treatment within 18 weeks of referral. This was achieved for less than three quarters (73.1 per cent) of those who had their first appointments between October and December 2020.

Responding to the figures, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “There were already a record number of children waiting over a year for treatment at the outset of the pandemic, years into the SNP Government's mental health strategy. Now they number nearly 2,000, with record numbers of adults waiting over a year too.

"A year feels like a lifetime if you are waiting for help. Problems that can start small become crises. Frontline staff are working tirelessly but there aren't enough of them.”

Mr Rennie urged any future government to seriously expand the mental health workforce in Scotland.

Scottish Conservative shadow mental health spokesman Brian Whittle described the data as “devastating”, and accused the Government of “repeatedly failing to meet their targets” and “leaving support services underfunded”.

“SNP ministers have had years to strengthen Scotland’s mental health services and now people are paying the price for their failure,” he said.

How to tell if your child is depressed during lockdown
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“The SNP’s record on mental health support is unacceptable and for all those young people waiting for help, it is simply intolerable.

“They need to take responsibility for their failures and deliver the support for NHS services and mental health charities that so many young people urgently need.”

Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey said there had been a "significant increase" in performance in the most recent quarter, describing this as "encouraging", but added that long waits are “unacceptable”.

She continued: "The £120 million we have announced for our Mental Health Recovery and Renewal Fund is the single largest investment in mental health in the history of devolution.

"It will prioritise our ongoing work to improve specialist CAMHS services, address long waiting times, and clear waiting list backlogs.

"The direct investment from the Scottish Government of over £262 million for mental health in the coming financial year means that we have more than doubled our mental health budget for 2021-22 when compared with 2020. That takes total Scottish spending on mental health in 2021-22 to in excess of £1.2 billion."