CHILDREN’S services providers have warned of a mental health pandemic as it emerged the numbers waiting over a year for support has doubled.
New Public Health Scotland indicate that at the end of June 2021, 1,686 children and young people had been waiting over a year for treatment from specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) provided by the NHS.
That’s double the 787 that were waiting in June, 2020 and represents 14.4% of those waiting for specialist treatment.
With already under-resourced and overstretched services facing overwhelming pressure due to increased demand, the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance of leading providers of children’s services, has raised concerns over a potential “lost generation” of vulnerable children and young people whose mental health is being impacted by Covid-19.
The country’s public service watchdog Audit Scotland last week warned that “serious concerns have existed for years”, and that action was now more urgent given the impact of the pandemic on young people.
Interim controller of audit Antony Clark said a third of young people were now waiting longer than the Scottish Government’s 18-week target for specialist treatment.
Meanwhile there are was a a 14-year-high in the number of children diagnosed with self-harm issues at hospitals in Scotland last year.
Some 1,400 cases were recorded, up from 1,141 the year before and the highest figure since 2007.
SCSC said this was “the tip of the iceberg”.
The Scottish Government has said this is likely to be an undercount for the true number of children affected, as the figures record only inpatient data, and many children with self-harm issues are not admitted to hospital.
And while 4,552 children and young people were treated over the period April to June 2021 by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services only 72.6% were seen within the Scottish Government’s waiting time target for the NHS of 18 weeks from referral to treatment.
An SCSC spokesman said: “These frightening statistics highlight the challenges ahead and while we welcome a commitment by the Scottish Government to increase investment in mental health services to 1 per cent of NHS spending over the next five years, we need this investment now. “This increased investment should not however just apply to the NHS and one of the key problems is that early intervention support has not been available due to funding restrictions. Investing in early intervention limits the need for highly costly CAMHS and increasing resourcing in support services and intervention strategies must be a priority for this government.
“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. It is more important then ever that children can access the support they need, when they need it, irrespective of where they live.
“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.”
The Scottish Government has announced an extra £40m for CAMHS, published a new specification for the services people should get, and issued guidance on how schools could embed support for mental health.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise that long waits are unacceptable, and we remain committed to meet the standard that 90% of patients begin treatment within 18 weeks of referral in these services.
“We are working closely with Health Boards to implement new service delivery specifications and all Boards are developing recovery plans, which set out how they will meet the 90% waiting times standard. Their implementation will result in shorter waiting times, and a better experience for individuals and families supported by our NHS.
“It is encouraging to see a record number of new patients starting treatment in CAMHS in the last quarter, as our NHS continues to remobilise and patient demand increases.
“This has been made possible by the hard work of NHS staff, and growth in the CAMHS workforce – which saw a 4.4% increase since March 2020 to the highest staffing levels on record.
“We are building on this investment, with an additional £34m provided to NHS Boards in 2021/22 to improve services, including action to address waiting lists.
“This is part of a longer term commitment to ensure that by 2026, 10% of frontline NHS budget is invested in mental health, with 1% directed specifically to children and young people.
“We have committed to double funding for community services for children and young people, as part of our cooperation agreement with the Green party.”