Youngsters’ mental health ‘at risk from 6-month waits’

Linda Irvine says NHS Lothian is working hard to ensure patients don't suffer long waits. Picture: Callum Bennetts
Linda Irvine says NHS Lothian is working hard to ensure patients don't suffer long waits. Picture: Callum Bennetts
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THE mental health of young people in Lothian is being put at risk due to unacceptable waits for treatment of more than half a year, a leading charity has warned.

New figures have revealed that children in the region are facing some of the longest delays in Scotland to be seen, with NHS Lothian the worst-performing health board when measured against a target to start treatment within six months for its Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

Between April and July, more than a fifth of 472 young people did not get access to NHS Lothian’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services within 18 weeks, while 13 per cent were still waiting after six months. The service has seen a 63 per cent increase in referrals since 2009.

Chris Leaman, policy manager with Young Minds, said he was concerned about the impact languishing on waiting lists for excessive periods was having on some of society’s most vulnerable people.

He said: “If we can deal with problems in childhood, there’s a lot more chance of sorting it out and it not recurring. It’s really important that children and young people are seen quickly and get what they need in a timely fashion.

“Six months of your life as a child is a long time to cope without help, support and the care that is needed – it’s too long. It’s a brave step in the first place to say ‘I’m struggling’. They go to see someone who decides they need specialist help, and this further delay can be really challenging. There’s a chance that six months down the line they could have a much more serious condition.”

In Glasgow, which had more than twice as many referrals as Lothian, 96 per cent were seen within 18 weeks, while none waited beyond six months.

The Scottish Government has said 90 per cent of people should have access to psychological therapies within 18 weeks by December next year.

Mr Leaman added: “Across the country, children and young people’s mental health services have not been given the resources they need. We’re currently playing catch-up.”

NHS Lothian recently pledged up to £700,000 to speed up treatment to psychological services.

Linda Irvine, the health board’s strategic programme manager for mental health and wellbeing, said: “We are seeing a high demand for our Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. This is due to better knowledge of the services we offer, which has resulted in a significant increase in the number of referrals.

“We are working hard to ensure that patients should not have to wait too long for treatment and we are meeting the current agreed national standard of treating patients within 26 weeks in the vast majority of cases.”