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Wait times for children’s mental health services show slight improvement

Waiting time figures for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services were published on Tuesday (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Waiting time figures for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services were published on Tuesday (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Waiting times for specialist children’s mental health services have improved slightly but remain below the target.

In the third quarter of 2023, 75.6% of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) patients were seen within 18 weeks of referral, up from 73.8% in the previous quarter.

The Scottish Government standard states that 90% of children and young people should start treatment within 18 weeks of referral to Camhs.

According to the most recent figures from Public Health Scotland, 4,686 children and young people started Camhs treatment in the third quarter of 2023.

This figure is down 8.0% from the 5,093 who started treatment in the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, there were 5,344 children and young people waiting to start treatment in the quarter ending September 2023.

Mental wellbeing minister Maree Todd said: “The latest figures show that we continue to see significant and sustained progress on Camhs waiting times – 13 out of 14 boards have now effectively eliminated long waits.

Maree Todd
Maree Todd said there has been ‘significant and sustained progress’ on waiting times (PA)

“The overall Camhs waiting list decreased by more than a third (36%) in the last year, and the number of children waiting over 18 weeks decreased by 69% over the same period. One in two children and young people referred to Camhs now start treatment within 10 weeks.

“This has been made possible by the hard work of the Camhs workforce, supported by our record high investments in Camhs including £48.6 million of supplementary funding to boards this year to improve the quality and delivery of mental health services for all. This is in addition to £36.7 million allocated to health boards via the outcomes framework in 2022-23, and to the total package of core funding that boards receive.

“Despite these positive figures, we are not complacent. We remain committed to supporting all boards to meet the standard that 90% of patients start treatment within 18 weeks of referral.

“It is vital that all children and young people receive the right support, at the right time.”

Dr Kandarp Joshi, chair of Camhs at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “While there has been a slight improvement on the figures, we must not be complacent as the data suggests the Scottish Government are still way off their own targets.

“As clinicians working on the front line, we now need firm assurances on how targets will be met as the lack of clarity means recruitment and retention of staff to help these young people becomes more difficult and the problem gets worse.

Alex Cole-Hamilton
Alex Cole-Hamilton said the SNP Government has ‘failed by every measure on mental health’ (PA)

“An ideal time to do this would be now, in the run-up to the Scottish Budget announcement.

“While we welcomed the investment into Camhs through the mental health and renewal fund, funding in real terms will have gone down due to inflation and we cannot assume that the job is now done.

“What we do know is that there’s a postcode lottery of Camhs services across Scotland so local services are clearly not seeing this money.”

Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats also hit out at the Government’s record on mental health services.

Labour’s Paul Sweeney said: “These latest figures are a stark reminder of the true scale of this crisis.

“People have lost faith in mental health support and thousands of children and young people have been forced to wait weeks to receive care.”

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “I do not understand how nationalist ministers can respond to these devastatingly long waits for treatment with budget cuts and inaction.

“The SNP have failed by every measure on mental health. Last winter, the Government slashed the mental health budget by a staggering £50 million, a reckless move that was swiftly followed by Humza Yousaf breaking his personal commitment to clear waiting lists by the spring.”