More than a quarter of youngsters in need of specialist mental health care were not seen within the Scottish Government’s target time – with more than 100 waiting over a year for an appointment.
Children’s campaigners and opposition politicians branded the waiting times for Child and Adolescent Mental Services (CAMHS) “unacceptable”.
Over the course of last year 5,227 children and young people in Scotland had to wait more than 18 weeks for a CAMHS appointment – a rise of 1,650 from 2017.
Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Thousands of young people have been failed in their hour of need.
“It is a national scandal that 5,227 children and young people had to wait longer than the four-and-a-half-months target for mental health treatment.”
NHS figures covering the last three months of 2018 showed 72.8% of children and young people received a CAMHS appointment within 18 weeks.
That is up from 69% for the period July to September – but still well below the target of having 90% of youngsters seen within 18 weeks.
At the same time the number of patients who waited more than a year for an appointment went from 93 in the third quarter of 2018 to 108 in the last three months of the year.
Only five of Scotland’s 14 regional NHS boards met the target of having 90% of patients receive an appointment within 18 weeks for October to December – with NHS Grampian achieving this for just 41.1%.
Scottish Conservative mental health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “These waiting times are utterly unacceptable, forcing children to wait far too long for essential mental health services.
“This utterly exposes the empty promises of the SNP and their failure to substantially improve these vital services.”
She added: “The SNP must urgently improve access to services and ensure that all children get speedy and appropriate diagnosis. Anything less is failing children and families.”
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCCS), which brings together care providers from the voluntary and independent sector, said: “These latest waiting time figures highlight that fact we are continuing to fail thousands of children and young people with mental health problems.”
Of the 453 children and young people who received inpatient treatment in 2017-18, 198 were placed in an adult psychiatric ward.
An SCCS spokesman said: “There must be a radical transformation of our mental health services, with a focus on preventing such problems arising in the first place and intervening early, especially when we know that half of all mental health problems begin before the age of 14.
“It is also vital that we increase the number of beds available in child and adolescent units, given the fact that over 40% of admissions of children and young people were to adult psychiatric wards.”
Mental health minister Clare Haughey welcomed the increase in the number of children and young people seen by CAMHS in October to December – with this up 7% on the quarter and 12% over the year.
She added: “Our £250 million package of measures outlined in the latest Programme for Government, will help see more children and young people get the support they need in the community, rather in the acute CAMHS settings that are currently covered by these statistics.
“We have also ensured additional funding to help boards improve their performance against these waiting times.”