New statistics have revealed hundreds of children have been waiting for mental health treatment across the north of Scotland with 724 patients on the list in the Highlands – the highest it’s been for more than a year.
Quarterly statistics published by Public Health Scotland show a total of 1,306 young patients were waiting for appointments at the end of March from across Grampian and the Highlands and Islands.
And rising numbers of young patients are being referred for specialist treatment at Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Grampian – 800 patients in March 2021 compared to 649 during the same month last year.
A total of 2, 146 young patients from across Scotland had been waiting for over a year to be seen.
Scottish Labour warned of a looming “mental health crisis” among young people.
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and health spokeswoman, stressed that urgent action must be taken by the Scottish Government to get CAMHS services “in crisis” back on track.
She said: “That over 2,000 young people have waited over a year for vital treatment is nothing short of a scandal.
“We know that the pandemic has had a serious impact on the mental health of our young people – the Scottish Government simply cannot continue to fail them.”
Waiting lists in the Highlands have gradually been increasing. There were 482 patients on the list in January last year, rising to 528 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and increasing further to 724 in March this year.
In Grampian, waiting list numbers have reduced from 793 in January 2020 to 554 at the end of March, although there has been a slight increase this year.
Alex Pirrie, manager of the CAMHS centre in Aberdeen, said: “CAMHS in Grampian has continued to work hard to improve performance with respect to patients accessing a CAMHS assessment and start of treatment.
“However, in line with the rest of the country, CAMHS has experienced an increase in children and young people who are presenting acutely unwell and requiring intensive input.
“This is having an impact on our routine appointments. However, we are monitoring our waiting times on a daily and weekly basis and are implementing measures to keep these as minimal as possible.”
And waiting list numbers have more than halved in the islands with 72 child patients waiting in January 2020, dropping to 28 at the end of March this year.
At the end of the last quarter there were 3, 817 open cases at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services centre in Grampian and 1,039 in the Highlands.
The majority of patients in Grampian are seen within 18 weeks (92%), compared to three-quarters of youngsters (75%) in the Highlands.
The Scottish Government target states that 90% of children and young people should start treatment within 18 weeks of referral to specialist services. The average across Scotland was 72%.
An NHS Highland spokesman said the service had changed during the first lockdown.
He added: “However, since September 2020 the team have been delivering outpatient appointments, while continuing provision for emergency appointments and a duty system in place, Monday to Friday 9-5.
“Our ultimate aim would however be to see children/young adults in a timely manner to provide early intervention and NHS Highland is committed to exploring ways to increase capacity to meet demand and earlier access to CAMHS.
“We have been provided with Scottish Government investment and we are working on plans with the government to improve waiting times. ”
The Scottish Government says it has allocated over £4 million to address CAMHS waiting lists across the country.
However, Scottish Conservative Craig Hoy, shadow mental health minister, said the party wants to see mental health spending increased to 10% of the Scottish health budget to help tackle this issue.
He said: “These figures are appalling and underline the scale of the mental health crisis engulfing children and young people across Scotland.
“We need an urgent plan from SNP ministers to guarantee that vulnerable young people will be seen as quickly as possible and health boards given every resource they need to tackle mental health.”
This is a priority for the new Scottish Government
However, Kevin Stewart, minister for mental wellbeing, says this is a priority for the new Scottish Government, and adds they are looking to tackle the issue in areas with the longest waiting lists.
He said: “We’re determined to reduce long waits for child and adolescent mental health services.
“That’s why we have allocated over £29m to NHS boards to improve CAMHS, with £4.25m to specifically address waiting lists.
“While it’s welcome that we’re seeing sustained improvement in parts of the country, we want to go further and see that delivered consistently across the country.
“To ensure this we are developing a programme of enhanced support for areas where waits are unacceptably long.”