Children ‘waiting more than a year’ for mental health treatment

The number of children attending the NHS with self-harming issues reached a high as referrals to CAMHS doubled.

Children ‘waiting more than a year’ for mental health treatment Juanmonino via iStock
More than 10,000 were referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the three months to June 2021.

More than 1600 children and young people have been waiting for longer than a year for mental health treatment as referrals double in a year.

A top psychiatrist has said “we simply cannot wait any longer” to fix the problem after the impact coronavirus pandemic.

More than 10,000 were referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the three months to June 2021 – the highest in the data available since March 2017.

The number is also more than double the figure for the same time last year, which saw 4502 young people referred for treatment.

“…You can’t underestimate the impact poor mental health in child and adolescence can have on the rest of your life.”

Dr Helen Smith, Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland
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Dr Helen Smith, chair of the CAMHS faculty at Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said the statistics were “shocking”.

She said: “Most of the vulnerable young people we see have mental health problems that have been affected adversely by the pandemic, including heightened anxiety, eating disorders and depression.

“For young people, it’s a very ­concerning and worrying time because you can’t underestimate the impact poor mental health in child and adolescence can have on the rest of your life.”

The new figures, published by Public Health Scotland on Tuesday, come after it was revealed the number of children presenting with self-harming at Scottish hospitals reached its highest level last year since 2007.

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In 2020, 1400 children attended NHS acute hospitals for self-harm issues.

“These frightening statistics highlight the challenges ahead…”

Spokesperson for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition

Dr Smith said CAMHS needs “real resources, not cosmetic changes”.

“To fix this problem and to keep up with demand, we need proposed investment to be delivered urgently, along with 320 new children and adolescent mental health staff.”

The National Standard is that 90% of children and young people should start treatment within 18 weeks of referral.

The percentage of patients who were seen within this target had been decreasing each year from March 2017 until December 2020 when it increased.

A report from Public Health Scotland said it was likely school closures impacted the number of patients being seen with some children not having access to safe or confidential spaces to engage in virtual appointments.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), a group of sector providers, warned of a “mental health pandemic” after the statistics follow more than a year and half of the impact of Covid-19 on young people.

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A spokesperson for the SCSC 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 one per cent of NHS spending over the next five years, we need this investment now.

“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.”

NHS Lothian had the highest number of children and young people waiting for treatment with 3812 – more than 1000 of which had been waiting for over a year. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had 2838 and NHS Lanarkshire had 1517.

Scottish Conservative shadow mental health minister Craig Hoy said: “Scotland’s young people are in the grip of a mental health crisis and despite the SNP government having pledged action, the latest data on waiting times makes bleak reading.

“SNP ministers need to act immediately to guarantee that vulnerable youngsters receive treatment as quickly as possible.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson 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, ten per cent of frontline NHS budget is invested in mental health, with one per cent 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.”