Referrals for children’s mental health services drop by 55%

The pandemic has been blamed for the fall in numbers, with experts describing the figures as 'deeply disturbing'.

Referrals for children’s mental health services drop by 55% Getty Images

The number of children and young people being referred for specialist mental health treatment has dropped by more than 55%, due to measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

New figures show 3985 children and young people were referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the period April to June – down from 9,017 in the previous three-month period.

As well as the 55.8% drop in referrals, official figures show a 13.6% drop in the number of youngsters who started treatment with CAMHS.

The figures, from Public Health Scotland, also show that more than 11% of those waiting for a CAMHS appointment had been on the list for longer than a year without being seen.

The figures have been described as “deeply troubling” by the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance of independent and third sector providers of children’s services.

The SCSC added the figures “point to a ‘perfect storm’ for our young people, with increased demand coupled with cuts in services”.

An SCSC spokesman said: “While referrals have dropped during lockdown and children are not accessing support, we are storing up immense problems for the future as specialist mental health services face being overwhelmed due to greatly increased demand.”

The spokesman insisted that a “national crusade” is now needed to “deliver the mental health provision our young people desperately need”.

According to the data, a total of 3561 children and young people began treatment with CAMHS in the three months to the end of June, compared with 4122 in the previous quarter.

The report from Public Health Scotland said: “Since March 2020 there has been a decline in both referrals and patients seen in response to measures taken at a national level to prevent the transmission of Covid-19.”

By the end of June 2020 there were 9,986 children and young people waiting to start treatment with CAMHS – down from the total of 12,022 recorded at the end of March.

The report said: “The decrease in the number of patients waiting is largely due to the reduction of referrals and is in direct correlation to the pandemic.”

While the Scottish Government has set a target of having 90% of youngsters referred to CAMHS starting treatment within 18 weeks, the latest figures show this target was met for less than three-fifths of patients.

In the NHS Borders area, just over 42.9% of those starting CAMHS treatment between April and June did so within the target time, while in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, 46% of those waiting for a CAMHS appointment at the end of June had been doing so for 53 weeks or longer.

Across Scotland, the number of youngsters seen within the 18-week target time fell from 65.2% in the first three months of this year, and from 69.8% in the period April to June 2019.

Mental health minister Clare Haughey said: “We have been working closely with all health boards to ensure that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) continue throughout the pandemic but, with the impact on capacity to see people face to face, emergency and urgent cases were prioritised during lockdown.

“Within the constraints of Covid-19 restrictions, health boards have responded to continue to treat significant numbers of children and young people in other ways, such as video conferencing to deliver care via the NHS Scotland approved Near Me platform.”

Ms Haughey added that the decrease in new referrals has “also enabled some boards to tackle the backlog and offer a large number of new appointments to patients who had been waiting more than 18 weeks”.

“Under this Government, CAMHS staffing has increased by 78%, and we continue to create new posts in this area as part of our wider £7m investment in mental health workforce development,” she said.

“We have also provided £5.8m of additional funding to create new online support services and increase the capacity of existing ones, and launched the Clear Your Head campaign to help the population look after their mental health and wellbeing during – and after – the coronavirus outbreak.”

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