New figures showing almost 2,000 youngsters have been left waiting a year or more for specialist mental health care are “damning” and “frankly not good enough”, psychiatrists have insisted.
Dr Helen Smith, chair of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) faculty of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said the long waits for help showed the “many problems” services were facing.
Her comments came as NHS data revealed that at the end of September there were 1,978 patients who had been waiting 52 weeks or more for a CAMHS appointment – a rise of 106% from the total of 959 recorded in September 2020.
By the end of September 2021, there were a total 11,816 youngsters waiting for an appointment with CAMHS.
The Scottish Government target is that 90% of patients should wait no more than 18 weeks for such help.
The latest figures showed almost eight out of 10 (78.6%) of children and young people were seen within 18 weeks.
However as well as the 1,978 who had been waiting from more than a year, there were 1,780 youngsters who have been on the list for an appointment for between 36 and 52 weeks, and 2,858 who have been waiting for between 19 weeks and 35 weeks.
In the NHS Dumfries and Galloway area only a third (33.3%) of youngsters were seen within the 18-week target time, the latest figures showed.
Dr Smith said: “Once again, these are damming figures which highlight the many problems with CAMHS services across the length and breadth of the country.
“The fact that our vulnerable children and young people are still waiting to be seen is, frankly, not good enough.
“We need them to be able to access the right support at the right time, from the correct services.”
She added: “To meet the Scottish Government’s own target of 90% waiting times by 2023 will require sustained planning and investment, particularly in terms of the CAMHS workforce.
“The funding already promised is a good start but it is clear demand is not keeping up with supply.
“We’re now calling on clarification as to when this promise will be urgently delivered, along with the training and delivery of 320 new children and adolescent mental health staff to address these dismal waiting time numbers.”
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), meanwhile, raised concerns about a “potential lost generation of vulnerable children” as it urged the Scottish Government to respond to the problem with the same urgency as they have dealt with the coronavirus crisis.
With the Scottish Budget due to be published on Thursday, the organisation – which represents those providing specialist care services to children – called on ministers to make this “a Budget for mental health for our children and young people”.
An SCSC spokesman said: “For some time we have 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.
“It is more important than ever that children can access the support they need, when they need it, irrespective of where they live.
“To achieve this there must be a radical transformation of our mental health services, investing in specialist services and with a focus on preventing such problems arising in the first place and intervening early.
“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.”
In the period July to September, a total of 3,792 youngsters started treatment with CAMHS – down by 16.7% from the 4,552 who started to receive help in the previous three months.
Minister for mental wellbeing Kevin Stewart was clear that “long waits for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are not acceptable”, adding it was “encouraging to see progress towards meeting the waiting times target with eight out of 10 children and young people seen within 18 weeks of a referral”.
He added: “We do recognise that performance is mixed and there is more to be done particularly in those areas where there have been increases in the number of children and young people waiting for over a year for treatment – this is why support is being directed to those boards with the longest waits to clear backlogs by March 2023.
“As part of this support we have provided additional funding of £40 million to improve CAMHS this year, with £4.25 million directly focused on offering treatment to those already on the waiting list.”
But Conservative mental health spokesman Craig Hoy said: “These figures are absolutely devastating. On the SNP’s watch, Scotland is in the grip of a mental health crisis among our young people.
“Even prior to the pandemic, the SNP continually failed to meet crucial mental health waiting time targets. The Covid crisis has only exacerbated mental health issues for young people and urgent action is needed to avoid this situation getting even worse.
“It is shocking that almost 2,000 vulnerable young people have been waiting over a year to begin treatment. SNP ministers are simply not doing enough to ensure our health boards and local organisations have the resources needed to support those most in need.”
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