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Steep rise in waiting times for children accessing mental health services in the Highlands

By Scott Maclennan

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Molly Nolan.
Molly Nolan.

Shock new figures have shown a huge rise in the number of children waiting more than a year to access mental health services in the Highlands over the past five years.

A Freedom of Information request by Highland Liberal Democrats revealed the dire backlog, with more than 4000 children having to wait more than 18 weeks for access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

In 2016-17, within the NHS Highland area, there were 81 cases of youngsters having to wait for more than 18 weeks to receive support, with nine waiting for over a year.

With a slight rise the following year in both categories, by last year the figures stood at 386 and 214 respectively.

Molly Nolan, the Scottish Lib-Dem candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, described the figures as "heartbreaking" and called for new specialist beds to be made available for young people.

She also called on the Scottish Government to apologise for the situation.

"For years vulnerable children across the north of Scotland have been subjected to harrowing, long waits for help," she said.

"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.

And the government said that, after an extensive consultation, a unit at Dudhope House in Dundee would continue to be used as the primary inpatient care facility for youngsters from 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."

Related story: Taskforce to tackle mental health crisis in the Highlands

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