Increased investment in mental health called for as child referrals increase by more than 27%

Published on March 15, 2022

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance of leading providers of children’s services, has called for greatly increased investment in mental health services as the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the young become clearer.

The call comes as new figures published by Public Health Scotland today (15th March 2022), indicate that over the quarter covering October to December 2021, 10,021 children and young people were referred to specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) for treatment. This includes issues such as anxiety and depression and represents a staggering 27.1% increase in numbers from the previous quarter (July to September 2021) when the equivalent figure was 7,882.*

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 before the pandemic cases of poor mental health were at unprecedented levels and services were in crisis, with a growing number of vulnerable children unable to access adequate support. The pandemic has exacerbated this, leading to unprecedented demand and backlogs, with services struggling to keep up.

In total, 4, 544 children and young people started treatment at CAMHS during the period October to December 2021, an increase of 19.8% from the previous quarter (3,792). Only around seven in 10 (70.3%) were seen within the Scottish Government’s maximum waiting time for the NHS of 18 weeks from referral to treatment (to be met by at least 90% of patients). This is a fall from the previous quarter when the figure was 78.6 %. Eight out of 14 health boards failed to meet this target (full table in Notes to Editors).**

At the end of December 2021, a total of 1,570 children and young people had been waiting over a year for treatment .***

In addition to increased investment in specialist CAMHS, the SCSC has called for greater workforce planning and a renewed focus on expanded prevention and early intervention services, reducing the need for referral to costly specialist mental health services. 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:

“For some time now, we have raised concerns over a potential lost generation of vulnerable children and young people, whose mental health is being impacted even further by the Covid-19 pandemic. “Too many of our young people are waiting too long for the treatment they need and it is more important than ever that children can access the support required, irrespective of where they live.

“While we welcome the attention that the Scottish Government has given to date on this vital issue, a lack of resources and lack of staff mean it's becoming an impossible situation to manage. There must be a radical transformation of our mental health services, investing in specialist services and with a renewed focus on preventing such problems arising in the first place and intervening early.

“This is a crisis we can overcome, but as the country comes to terms with the biggest hit to its mental health in generations, it will require a similar energy and commitment to that demonstrated for Covid-19 if we are to achieve this and prevent many young people giving up on their futures.”

* CAMHS waiting times, table 4a ** table 1a *** table 1b


Notes to Editors

Waiting times (with adjustments) for people who started their treatment from October to December 2021, by NHS Board of treatment.

Health boardTotal number seen% seen within 18 weeks
NHS Scotland4,54470.3
NHS Ayrshire & Arran35093.7
NHS Borders7067.1
NHS Dumfries & Galloway13347.4
NHS Fife36371.9
NHS Forth Valley11157.7
NHS Grampian37295.2
NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Valley1,56157.7
NHS Highland23275.0
NHS Lanarkshire23969.5
NHS Lothian72665.2
NHS Tayside32993.0
NHS Island Boards58100.0


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