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Young people who have waited months – or years – for help with severe mental health problems are now being sent to outside charities, as crisis-hit CAMHS teams struggle to cope with demand.
Health chiefs claim the move which has been adopted in Lothian, Glasgow and Grampian, will give young people ‘timely help’ after a surge in requests for support.
The new ‘choice’ appointments being offered to those with severe problems including eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and self-harming are only offered after appropriate assessment by doctors, the health board says.
But one furious parent said after battling for two years to get help for her 17-year-old twins she feels her family has been abandoned.
Mhairi Whyte said her 17-year-old twins are crying out for help but feel let down by CAMHS. The mum-of-two from Loanhead is now trying to raise cash to start a charity to help other families.
"My son struggled for two years and asked for help but was suicidal several times before he got help and medication. He started self harming about a year ago and has asked to go into a ward, saying he would feel safer there. He knows I have to keep everything away from him that he could harm himself with. My child is in crisis but it feels like nobody can help. He sees a psychiatrist but hasn't improved. It's not working.
“His sister was discharged by CAMHS after eight years fighting for help. It's awful, she's not attending school and anxiety is through the roof. They have both missed so much school now. She struggles with many things and I believe she has autism. She often just wants to stay in her room all day. Once she locked herself in and her brother had to climb in the window so we could check she was okay.
"I feel angry and desperate. I think sending young people elsewhere when they have been crying out for specialist support for so long is a sticking plaster. CAMHS is not fit for purpose. It's broken. Young people are getting worse and the parents end up being blamed. The only thing keeping me sane is help from other parents through online support groups. We’ve gone to different charities, but they can only do so much.”
Young people with severe conditions that often get worse due to long waits for treatment are being brought in with parents for a review appointment and told support from a ‘clinical setting’ might not be the best option.
In a briefing seen by the Evening News health chiefs at NHS Lothian claim “in many instances the best course of action may be one which is community based.”
But the ‘choice and partnership’ model has sparked fears that young people who need specialist help could end up falling through the cracks, as community services are inundated with requests for help.
It follows stark warnings of a mental health pandemic among young people as the impacts of Covid-19 saw a sharp rise in the numbers waiting more than a year for help – with more than half of those from across Scotland coming from NHS Lothian.
Figures show the number of young people referred to CAMHS in NHS Lothian between April and June was more than double for the same period in 2020 – up from 825 to 2011 in twelve months.
Lothians MSP Miles Briggs said: “This is a national scandal. It’s dangerous to ditch young people who are in need of specialist support, many will already have waited months or for help.
"It’s clear this is being forced through to make waiting lists look better. Staff could feel pressure to implement this even if it’s not in the best interests of the young person to be pushed from pillar to post. It is a clear signal of the collapse of the service if they can’t help young people in crisis.”
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition also voiced concerns and called for specialist CAMHS services to be adequately supported.
The ‘evidence based’ choice model was previously scrapped in NHS Lothian. Currently there are 4790 young people being seen by CAMHS in Lothians but only 12 hospital beds available for young people from across Edinburgh, Borders, Fife and West Lothian.
An insider at CAMHS said overstretched staff worry about young people already in crisis being referred to other services.
The consultant child psychiatrist said: "It's a big step for children and young people to come forward for help. For those with deteriorating mental health where there is not a
significant level of risk, support should come from community or third sector services – but not when young people’s mental health is at crisis point. Community services are limited and demand for them is high.
“The mental health of young people on waiting lists often deteriorates over time. The waits between the initial appointment and being seen by other organisations will only grow over time. And others might not accept them because they could see it as too risky.”
Jim Crombie, Deputy Chief Executive, NHS Lothian said: “CAPA is an evidence-based model that aims to match both service capacity and demand to improve timely access to care. It incorporates a range of innovative features, for example partnership working. Referrals to one of these partners would only be made once a clinical assessment had taken place, and only if it was deemed to be an appropriate option for support. Our teams are currently working to enhance this existing approach as part of our CAPA activity. At its core, this approach is fundamentally about ensuring that children and young people can receive the support they need in a timely manner.”