Child mental health services need ‘fundamental shift’

Tuesday 4th June 2019

A ‘radical transformation’ of mental health services is needed to address the fact that more than a quarter of children needing help in Scotland are waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment.

That’s according to an alliance of leading providers of education, care and support to vulnerable children, young people and their families.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) says “we are continuing to fail thousands of children and young people with mental health problems.”

Figures published this week by ISD Scotland show ten of Scotland’s 14 territorial health boards failed to meet the 18-week waiting time target for children and young people to get mental health treatment, with 118 waiting more than a year to be seen.

From January to March 2019, 4,237 children and young people started treatment at specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

The 18-week target is supposed to be met for at least 90% of patients, but only 73.6% were seen within the target period. 

The great efforts the Scottish Government is making, including an additional £250m for mental health over the next five years announced in its recent programme for government, are to be welcomed, but more clearly needs to be done,” the SCSC spokesperson added.

“These newly released figures highlight that the NHS in Scotland, including ten of our health boards, are failing to meet what is already a lengthy waiting time. Yet we know that three children in every classroom has a clinically diagnosable mental health problem.

“There must be a radical transformation of our mental health services, with a focus on preventing such problems arising in the first place and intervening early, especially when we know that half of all mental health problems begin before the age of 14.”

With 0.53% of NHS expenditure in Scotland going towards CAMHS – less than 7% of the overall mental health budget – the Coalition is calling for a fundamental rethink of services and a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention, including embedding mental health within education.

The group says: “With mental health and the issues associated with it representing one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, we must ensure that children and young people are able to get the care and support they need, when they need it. This includes investing in greater community support and support at school, reducing the need for referral to specialist CAMHS.”