Mental health patients face 'torturous' two-year wait for treatment

Demand for new strategy and extra funding after 'appalling' delays revealed.

NHS Highland mental health patients face two-year wait for treatment in Caithness STV News

Mental health patients are waiting an average of nearly two years for treatment in parts of the Highlands, new figures have revealed.

A freedom of information request submitted by STV News found that adults in Caithness faced an average wait of 99 weeks to be seen.

Children, meanwhile, are waiting an average of just over a year, at 56 weeks.

Scottish Government guidelines state that 90% of patients should start treatment within 18 weeks of being referred to psychological therapies.

Emma Taylor, who has been on the waiting list since January, described the delays as “appalling”.

She first spoke to STV News in July, when she warned that others waiting that long “could be dead by now”.

Two months on, Ms Taylor, who lives near Wick, still hasn’t been given a starting date for her treatment.

She said: “I think it’s pretty appalling, especially knowing there will be folk who will be lower than me on the waiting list.

“They are probably more in need of help than me.”

‘Horrific figures’

The Scottish Government said most people in the Highlands were being seen within two weeks, but local MP Jamie Stone said that was masking “horrific figures” for Caithness.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said: “It is completely unacceptable that the average mental health patient in Caithness is waiting almost two years to begin treatment, while children typically have to wait over a year.

“Waiting 99 weeks for mental health treatment must be simply torturous.

“I am pleased that progress in tackling waiting times has clearly been made in other parts of Highland, but it is shameful that Caithness has been left behind.”

He urged the Scottish Government to make Caithness a priority and has asked for a new prevention strategy.

He said: “I urge SNP ministers to deliver a new financial package to increase the number of professionals living and working in remote areas like ours and provide stronger support for the existing workforce by urgently commissioning a new Burnout Prevention Strategy.”

Local charity Caithness Mental Health Support Group called for extra funding to address the waiting list.

Group manager Chris McKenzie said: “Clearly a reduction in waiting times is of the upmost importance and hopefully NHS Highland can receive the financial support needed to tackle this.”

‘Unacceptable delays’

The Scottish Government admitted the delays were “unacceptable” and that it had invested an extra £40m into Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

A spokesperson said: “NHS boards are working hard to clear the backlogs and to see those who have waited the longest first.

“Dealing with the backlog first impacts on waiting times performance, however it is a crucial step towards improving waiting times in the longer term. 

“We are targeting tailored support towards those boards with the longest waits, providing access to professional advice, to ensure that they have robust improvement plans in place and will closely monitor their progress.”

NHS Highland said it was working on developments to support remote and rural communities.

A spokesperson said: “This included primary mental health workers who are based within local areas, community mental health staff providing psychological support as well as an overarching development plan for psychological therapies. 

“We also wish to acknowledge the important work of a broad range third sector and voluntary organisations in supporting people in local areas.”  

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