VULNERABLE children and young people are being forced to endure lengthy waits for mental health treatment, sparking fears this could worsen their condition.
New figures reveal that only 58 per cent of Lothian patients attending the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) started treatment within the Scottish Government’s 18-week limit in the second quarter of 2015.
Ministers have pledged to invest £1 million into training the CAMHS workforce staff across Scotland to help health boards struggling to reach the 90 per cent target.
The latest figures were a slight improvement on the first quarter of 2015, but the average waiting time remains around 16 weeks before people can start treatment. Lothian patients are facing “a postcode lottery” with waits of up to 13 weeks longer than someone living in the Borders.
Scottish Labour public services spokesperson Dr Richard Simpson, a former GP and psychiatrist, said: “It is very worrying to see continual missed targets in child mental health services.
“Having worked as a psychiatrist for over 20 years I know that delays to treatment only aggravate stress and can worsen a child’s condition.”
Sophie Pilgrim, director of Kindred Scotland, speaking on behalf of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), said: “Families usually experience months of waiting even before a referral to CAMHS.
“The consequent delay in diagnosis and appropriate support can result in crisis and the need for costly extra resources.”
Pioneering trials are under way to transform how services are delivered and eight new psychological therapists have been recruited to help ease the pressure, said Professor Alex McMahon, director of strategic planning, performance reporting and information at NHS Lothian.
He said: “More young people than ever before are accessing mental health services and we have seen a steady rise in the number of children and young people being referred to our services.
“Unfortunately there are more patients waiting longer than we would like and we are working hard to reduce this number.”
He added: “We are confident this work will help us improve access and ensure more people are seen within 18 weeks.”
The Scottish Government announced an £85m fund for mental health in May, with a significant proportion earmarked for helping Lothian.
Jamie Hepburn, minister for mental health, said: “There has been a significant increase in demand in recent years, and an increasing number of young people starting treatment over the last two years.
“The £100m fund we announced earlier this year will be key when it comes to making the further improvements we need.”