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Huge rise in children waiting more than a year for mental health services in the Highlands

By Scott Maclennan

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Molly Nolan has called for an apology from the Scottish Government. Picture: Gary Anthony
Molly Nolan has called for an apology from the Scottish Government. Picture: Gary Anthony

New figures show that there has been a more than 2200 per cent rise in the number of children waiting more than a year to access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) across the north over the last five years.

A Freedom of Information request by Highland Liberal Democrats revealed the dire backlog to CAMHS also revealed that at least 4000 children had to wait more than 18 weeks for mental health support.

Liberal Democrat MSP hopeful Molly Nolan has called on the Scottish Government to apologise as the figures for NHS Highland showed its CAMHS fared far worse than comparable health boards.

NHS Highland says it is working with the government to reduce waiting times after increased demand for services combined with the impacts of the pandemic.

In 2016-17, NHS Highland had 81 cases of people waiting more than 18 weeks for CAMHS and nine waited for over one year. The next year saw a slight rise in both categories.

But by last year, the figures stood at 386 for those waiting more than 18 weeks while 214 children had to wait for more than a year – that is a respective rise of 376 per cent and 2277 per cent since 2016-17.

By comparison, in 2016-17, NHS Grampian had 765 people waiting over 18 weeks for care and just 172 for 2020-21 – the numbers for those waiting more than a year did not rise above 'five or less'.

Ms Nolan, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross seat at Holyrood, described the figures as “heartbreaking” and called for new specialist beds for young people.

Ms Nolan said: “For years vulnerable children across the north of Scotland have been subjected to harrowing long waits for help.

"It is impossible to imagine just how hard it must be. It is heartbreaking and an utter scandal.

"We desperately need to put the recovery first and invest in mental health services. While our NHS staff do an incredible job, the Scottish Government has an obligation to get behind them with more money, staff and resources.

"Not only must we see an urgent review of the mental health strategy, we need new specialist beds for young people across the north to help families in the depth of worry about a struggling young person.”

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition has joined calls for an “urgent” increase in mental health spending.

The Scottish Government said that, after an extensive consultation, the unit at Dudhope House in Dundee would continue to be used as the primary inpatient facility for the north of Scotland, where the number of beds would double to 12.

A spokesman said: “Long waits are unacceptable and we are committed to meeting the standard that 90 per cent of patients start treatment within 18 weeks.

“The significant improvement in CAMHS waiting times figures this quarter – 73.1 per cent, up from 60.6 per cent last quarter – shows we are making good progress, however there is still work to be done.

“Last month we announced an additional £120 million for a mental health recovery and renewal fund to prioritise ongoing work alongside our Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan.

“This is the single largest investment in mental health in the history of devolution and the total £262.1 million budget for mental health and autism in the coming financial year more than doubles the budget for 2021/22 when compared to 2020, taking total anticipated spend on mental health in 2021/22 to in excess of £1.2 billion.

“Our Transition and Recovery Plan sets out a number of actions to help NHS boards to improve their waiting times performance and address long waits.


“NHS Highland is one of seven boards prioritised to receive this enhanced support and we are now working to support the development and implementation of a local recovery plan and to target investment to improve access to CAMHS.”

Louise Bussell, interim chief officer at NHS Highland, said: “The Covid pandemic has been a particularly challenging and concerning one for adults and children.

“We have seen an upsurge in need which, when added to the limitations of providing face-to-face appointments over the last year, has led to a significant delay in children accessing our services.

“We have used technology where possible as well as urgent face-to-face care, but continue to have capacity difficulties within the service.

“Prior to and during Covid we had identified the need to improve access to services and provide a sustainable model of care.

“To support this work, a new child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and psychological therapies programme board was established within NHS Highland in January to lead this improvement work in relation to both areas.

“We have representatives from the Scottish Government at this forum and are working closely to reduce waiting times.”

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