Children’s campaigners are demanding a “radical transformation” of mental health services after new figures revealed that less than two out of five young people in one part of Scotland received specialist help within the target time.
The Scottish Government has set the standard that patients should wait a maximum of 18 weeks for an appointment with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
Latest figures showed across Scotland 71.1% of youngsters started getting help within this time – although the figures from both NHS Tayside and NHS Borders were incomplete.
The figures, which cover the last three months of 2017, were the worst performance against the 18-week target since it was introduced in 2014.
A total of 4,015 children and young people started receiving treatment from CAMHS in that period.
However, in the NHS Grampian area only 39.1% of young people who started treatment between October and December last year were seen within 18 weeks.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “These statistics show that ministers are not just treading water on mental health, they’re sinking.
“It is nothing short of appalling that almost 30% now don’t receive the treatment they desperately need within 18 weeks and that more than 100 children have waited over a year.
“Staff are working around the clock but they aren’t getting anywhere near the support and resources they need. ”
The waiting-time figures were released at the same time as data showing CAMHS had a vacancy rate of 5.9% in December 2017 – up from less than 3% at the same time the previous year.
That was despite a 4% rise in the overall staff number, which increased to 1,013.1 whole time equivalent (WTE) workers
A spokesman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) – an alliance of independent and voluntary sector care providers – said: “It is clearly disappointing to note these newly-released figures highlighting that the NHS in Scotland, including 10 of our health boards, are failing to meet what is already a lengthy waiting time.
“This is no coincidence given that a very small proportion of the overall NHS and mental health budget is being spent on addressing the needs of children and young people, and yet we know that three children in every classroom has a clinically diagnosable mental health problem.
“There must be a radical transformation of our mental health services, with a focus on preventing such problems arising in the first place and intervening early, especially when we know that half of all mental health problems begin before the age of 14. ”
Other figures showed that almost a quarter of adults who started receiving psychological help in October to December 2017 waited longer than the 18 weeks.
Of the 15,261 patients who started treatment, 76.5% were seen within the target time, with only two health board areas – NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Western Isles – meeting the standard of seeing 90% of patients within 18 weeks.
Mental health minister Maureen Watt said: “Scotland has seen a significant increase in the number of well-trained professionals entering the mental health care workforce. This is the result of sustained investment and modernised and expanded training.
“Demand for mental health services is increasing as people become more aware of both mental health problems and of the care available, and as stigma reduces. But there are too many people who are experiencing waits that are too long.
“That’s why we’ll continue to support the improvement of mental health services through the £150 million of extra funding we’re providing over five years to help deliver our mental health strategy.”