A powerful watchdog has warned that mental health services for children are too “complex and fragmented” and the system is under “significant pressure”.
The Auditor General and the Accounts Commission called for a “step change” after their joint report uncovered patchy provision of services such as school counselling, and increased waiting times for specialist treatment.
The north-east has the worst performing services in Scotland, with the average wait for a child to receive mental health treatment hitting 21 weeks last year, almost double the average.
However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week announced £250million of extra investment in NHS and education services to address the issue, including plans to send hundreds of new counsellors into schools, colleges and universities.
Yesterday’s report found the current system of support is geared towards specialist care and responding to crisis, with “limited” action around early intervention and prevention.
It said that demand for specialist services had risen by 22% since 2013/14, while children and young people are waiting longer to begin treatment.
Just over a quarter of those who started treatment in 2017/18 waited over 18 weeks – the Scottish Government’s referral to treatment waiting time target for child and adolescent mental health services.
Meanwhile, average waiting times for a first treatment appointment increased from seven to 11 weeks between 2013/14 and 2017/18.
Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General, said: “The mental health system is complex and fragmented, making it difficult for children, young people and their families to get the support they need.
“Improving mental health and wellbeing is a public health priority for the Scottish Government.
“For this to happen, a step change is required in the way services respond to the needs of children and young people.”
Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey welcomed the report, adding “too many children and adolescents are being let down”.
“I have been clear that this is unacceptable and that we must look at making the changes necessary to ensure young people get the care they need and deserve,” she added.
Scottish Conservative mental health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “We’ve had plenty of warm words from the SNP government on this, but it’s now time to see these changes actually happen.”
Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “The additional funding and counsellors announced in the program for government is a start, but it is clear we are still some way off seeing mental health services treated with parity of esteem with acute services.”