Budget call as figures show more than 1,500 children have been waiting over a year for mental health treatment

Published on March 2, 2021

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance of leading providers of children’s services, has called on the Scottish Government to urgently increase mental health spending in its Budget.

The call comes as new figures published today (2nd March 2021) from Public Health Scotland (PDF)  indicate that at the end of December 2020, 1,560 children and young people had been waiting over a year for treatment from specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) provided by the NHS. These figures are the worst on record and represent a near tripling from December 2019 (589).

The SCSC has called for a mental health “national crusade”, with greatly increased investment in services for children and young people to tackle a current mental health pandemic.

With already under-resourced and overstretched services facing overwhelming pressure due to increased demand, the SCSC has raised concerns over a potential “lost generation” of vulnerable children and young people whose mental health is being impacted by Covid-19. 

Even prior to the pandemic cases of poor mental health were at unprecedented levels and there are a growing number of vulnerable individuals who cannot access adequate support.

However, just over 50p in every £100 of the NHS budget is being spent on CAMHS. A frighteningly low figure even though mental health services are creaking at the seams due to surging demand.

While 4,091 children and young people were treated over the period October to December 2020 (PDF) by CAMHS, only 73.1% were seen within the Scottish Government’s waiting time target for the NHS of 18 weeks from referral to treatment (met for at least 90% of patients). Only four out of 14 health boards met this target (full table in Notes to Editors).

In addition, 332 individuals had been waiting over a year prior to treatment (PDF) compared with 272 in the same quarter the previous year.

In addition to increased investment in mental health services, the SCSC has called for a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention, reducing the need for referral to costly specialist CAMHS. It has also called for greater partnership working between the public, private and third sectors as well as greater awareness of the services on offer, especially those at a community level.

A spokesperson for the SCSC commented:

“These latest figures are deeply troubling and point to a highly challenging environment for both our young people and our mental health services. We welcome the fact that the Scottish Government is intending to invest more than £1.1 billion in mental health services, but a national crusade is required, with significantly greater funding in the Scottish Budget to address the current crisis.

“With referrals beginning to return to pre-lockdown levels, it is vital that children and families are provided with the support they so desperately need, especially given the impact of the pandemic on mental health. The fact that more than 1,500 of our most vulnerable children have been waiting more than a year for treatment in this respect is deeply disturbing.

“We would urge the Scottish Government to look to not just the NHS, but to the third sector and other private sector organisations who have a key role to play in the delivery of mental health services. Our services must receive the funding they vitally need, with a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention, or we face creating a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people.” 


Notes to Editors

Waiting times (with adjustments) for people who started their treatment from October to December 2020, by NHS Board of treatment.

Health boardTotal number seen% seen within 18 weeks
NHS Scotland4,09173.1%
NHS Ayrshire & Arran30498.4%
NHS Borders4085.0%
NHS Dumfries & Galloway10296.1%
NHS Fife31482.8%
NHS Forth Valley19037.4%
NHS Grampian35196.3%
NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Valley1,45261.0%
NHS Highland20873.1%
NHS Lanarkshire21370.0%
NHS Lothian58666.6%
NHS Tayside27393.8%
NHS Island boards5898.3%

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