Lothian youngsters wait over a year for mental health help

NHS Lothian's figures are worse than 2 years ago. Stock image
NHS Lothian's figures are worse than 2 years ago. Stock image
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More than one in seven patients under 18 needing mental health treatment in the Lothians are having to wait over a year for help, new figures reveal.

Only 48.3 per cent under-18s were seen within the target time of 18 weeks – the second worst performance out of Scotland’s 32 health boards.

A total of 665 children and young people in Lothian were seen by Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the three months to December and the average waiting time was 20 weeks – the longest in Scotland.

Fifteen per cent had to wait 53 weeks or more – a higher proportion than anywhere else.

And the picture among adults waiting for psychological therapies was also poor. Just 64 per cent were seen within the 18-week target and almost one in ten (9.3 per cent) waited over a year – more than anywhere else in Scotland

Lothian MSP and Conservative mental health spokesman Miles Briggs said it was “utterly unacceptable” that a health board like Lothian was missing the target more often than hitting it.

He said: “Unless these statistics are dramatically improved, no-one will believe the SNP when it says it wants to give parity of esteem to mental health. These figures show thousands of vulnerable people, young and old, are being failed by a system which is supposed to help them.”

Lothian’s performance of 48.3 per cent of under-18s seen within 18 weeks compares with 99.2 per cent in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

And the situation in Lothian has worsened. During the equivalent period two years ago, 54.2 per cent of under-18s in Lothian were seen within what was then the new target time of 18 weeks and the average wait was 17 weeks.

Edinburgh Western Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said there was “a desperate need to deliver a step change in mental health”.

Labour said more than 3000 young people across Scotland had waited more than the target of 18 weeks for mental health treatment in 2016 and branded the figure a “national disgrace”. The party repeated its call for every high school in Scotland to have access to a school counsellor.

And charities warned long waits could make things worse for the families concerned.

A spokesman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said: “Families usually experience months of waiting even before a referral to CAMHS.

“The consequent delay in diagnosis and appropriate support can lead to a crisis situation for the child or young person concerned, as well as for their family, and the need for costly extra resources to address this.”

Senior NHS Lothian official Alex McMahon said more young people than ever before were accessing mental health services. “Unfortunately patients are having to wait longer than we would like and we are working hard to reduce this number.

“We have invested significantly in CAMHS over the years Our CAMHS team is working on an agreed action plan to reduce the time children and young people are waiting.

On adult services, Mr McMahon said: “I would like to apologise to anyone who has had to wait longer than they should have for an appointment, particularly for psychological therapies.”

He said there were plans to invest about £1 million in the coming year to build capacity in mental health services and ensure patients were seen as quickly as possible.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com