THE Scottish Government has accepted more work needs to be done to get on top of waiting times for children’s mental health services after ministers fell short of a key target in the NHS Recovery Plan.

Ministers pledged to eradicate Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) waiting times by March 2023, but figures for the last quarter show 469 children had been waiting for treatment for more than a year.

Just 74.2% of patients with mental health problems were seen within 18 weeks of referral to CAMHS. This is well short of the Government’s waiting time target of 90% being seen in this time.

Figures also show that as many as 7701 children and young people were still stuck on waiting lists to start treatment at the end of the quarter ending March 2023, an increase of 138 on the previous quarter ending December 2022.

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Mental Wellbeing Minister Maree Todd insisted that despite progress being made on waiting lists over the past year, the Government needed to do much more against the backdrop of a mental health emergency which is anticipated to worsen during the cost-of-living crisis.

She said: “Long waiting times are unacceptable, and more work needs to be done.

“While we have seen significant improvements in the waiting lists over the past year, despite record-breaking investments in CAMHS the target of eradicating waiting times by March 2023 has not been met.”

Todd did highlight how 11 out of 14 health boards have effectively eliminated long waits, with fewer than 4% of them over a year.

She added: “These figures are evidence of significant and sustained progress, including continuing record levels of activity.

“This progress has been made despite an increasing number of referrals for the services, which are now at record levels.”

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) – an alliance of providers of specialist care to vulnerable children – is calling on all of Scotland’s political parties to make mental health a key focus in the wake of the concerning figures.

The alliance wants to see a cross-party approach to prioritise spending on mental health and avoid a potential “lost generation” of children and young people with problems such as anxiety, depression and self-harm.

A spokesperson for the SCSC said: “The latest figures highlighting that more than 460 of our children and young people have been languishing on waiting lists for treatment more than a year is extremely alarming.

“Disturbingly, this means that the Scottish Government has totally failed to achieve its pledge to clear waiting lists by March 2023, leaving many thousands of children and young people waiting for treatment.

“Even before the Covid-19 pandemic demand for already overstretched and under-resourced mental health services was increasing. The mental health of our children and young people has deteriorated markedly over the past decade, and both the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis are making matters even worse, creating a potential lost generation of vulnerable children and young people.

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 “We are facing a mental health emergency and many of our children and young people are at breaking point, with stress and anxiety reaching alarming levels as they battle with the long shadow of lockdown and the rising cost of living.

 “We must make the delivery of adequately resourced mental health services for our children and young people an absolute priority and would urge all of Scotland’s political parties to come together and make this a reality.” 

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said the situation is “simply not sustainable” and has insisted that by 2026, 1% of all that is spent on health needs to go to supporting children’s mental health.

Dr Kandarp Joshi, vice-chair of the CAMHS faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Once again we have a situation where many young people and their families are having to wait weeks to receive care which increases their chances of developing more complex and severe mental ill health.

“It’s a mental health emergency and we predict demand is set to soar due to the cost of living crisis. We’re also dealing with the double whammy of having a postcode lottery of CAMHS services across Scotland.  

“As psychiatrists on the frontline, we’re doing all we can to support our young patients, but capacity simply isn’t keeping up with demand. It takes years to train new staff and services don’t have the resources they need to tackle the mental health crisis that is happening right now.

“This situation is simply not sustainable.  We need the Scottish Government ensure CAMHS receives its fair share of funding to implement positive and long-term whole system change. By 2026 - 1% of what we spend on health, needs to go on supporting our young people’s mental health.”