The number of children and young people waiting a year or more for specialist mental health treatment has almost trebled since coronavirus hit – with new figures showing more than 2,000 youngsters have been on the list for at least 52 weeks.
At the end of March 2020 there were 695 children and young people who had been waiting a year or more for their first appointment with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
But, by the end of March this year, that had increased to 2,012, an increase of 189.5% over the period.
Scottish Conservatives condemned the rise as “totally unacceptable” while Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Today’s statistics plainly show that CAMHS services are in crisis.”
They hit out as a new report on CAMHS waiting times, produced by Public Health Scotland, stated: “The number of children and young people (CYP) waiting 52+ weeks at March 2021 is at the highest level across the year.
“This is potentially due to a combination of school closures, some CYP not having access to a safe/confidential space to engage in digital appointments, or have a desire to wait for an in-person appointment.”
The Scottish Government has set the target of having at least 90% of those seeking help from CAMHS seen within 18 weeks.
But the figures showed that of the 11,007 youngsters who were on the waiting list at the end of March 2021, there were 5,531 who had been waiting longer than this.
As well as the 2,012 youngsters waiting for more than 52 weeks, a further 937 had been waiting for 36 to 52 weeks, with another 2,582 on the list for between 19 and 35 weeks.
Across Scotland 18.3% of those on the list for a CAMHS appointment had been waiting a year or more, figures from March 31 showed.
But in the NHS Highland area, more than a third (36.9%) of patients had been waiting this long, while in NHS Lothian it was 32.8%.
The figures showed that in the first three months of this year, a total of 4,089 children and young people started being treated by CAMHS – a drop of 1% from the 4,131 who started treatment in the first quarter of 2020.
Of those who started treatment in the period January to March this year, 72.5% were seen within 18 weeks.
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said the “frightening statistics” showed why MSPs must make increasing investment in support services a priority for this Parliament.
A spokesman said: “We have for some time raised concerns over a potential lost generation of vulnerable children and young people, whose mental health is being impacted even further by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is a crisis we can overcome, but it will require a similar energy and commitment to that demonstrated for Covid-19 if we are to achieve this and prevent many young people giving up on their futures.”
Scottish Conservative mental health spokesman Craig Hoy said: “These figures are appalling and underline the scale of the mental health crisis engulfing children and young people across Scotland.
“Prior to the pandemic, the SNP’s record on ensuring vulnerable youngsters were seen as quickly as possible was simply unacceptable.
“The Covid crisis and ongoing lockdown restrictions have only increased mental health issues among our young people and this means SNP ministers must get a grip of this challenge now.
“For thousands of young people waiting for vital mental health support, this is a totally unacceptable situation which cannot be allowed to continue.”
Meanwhile, Ms Baillie 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.”
Mental wellbeing minister Kevin Stewart said: “We’re determined to reduce long waits for child and adolescent mental health services.
“That’s why we have allocated over £29 million to NHS boards to improve CAMHS, with £4.25 million to specifically address waiting lists.
“While its 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.”