Mental health emergency warning as more than 1,000 children have been waiting more than a year for treatment

Published on December 1, 2020

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance of leading providers of children’s services, has warned of a “mental health emergency” as new figures published today (1st December 2020) indicate that more than 1,000 children and young people have been waiting over a year for mental health treatment.

The figures from Public Health Scotland also indicate that only one Scottish health board is meeting the Scottish Government’s waiting time target of 18 weeks from referral to treatment over the quarter to September 2020. Two out of five individuals are not being seen within this already lengthy 18-week target.

The SCSC has called on the Scottish Government to redouble its efforts and for a “national crusade” to tackle this emergency as the number of referrals return to pre-lockdown levels

While 4,032 children and young people were treated over the period July to September 2020 by child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), only 60.6 per cent were seen within the 18-week waiting target and only one health board, NHS Ayrshire and Arran met this target  (full table in Notes to Editors).

The report also highlights that at the end of September 2020, 1,060 children and young people had been waiting more than a year for treatment, up from 632 on the same point last year. In addition, 365 had been waiting over a year prior to treatment, compared with 220 in the same quarter the previous year.

The SCSC has warned that mental health services will face an overwhelming and unprecedented pressure due to pent-up demand created by the COVID-19 lockdown, coupled with a cut in youth support services. This could potentially lead to a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people who are missing out on the support they vitally need.

The SCSC has reiterated its call for a national crusade, urging a radical transformation and significantly increased investment in mental health services. It has also called for a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention and greater partnership working between the public, private and third sector. The coalition has also urged that greater awareness is made of the services on offer, especially those at a community level.

The SCSC has warned that self-isolation and social distancing have had an impact on young people struggling with issues such as anxiety and depression. It has noted that even the most resilient children are going to need additional support as they navigate this transition back into whatever is the new normal, and some will need a lot of extra support.

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.

“While referrals are 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 1,000 of our most vulnerable children have been waiting more than a year for treatment in this respect is deeply troubling.

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


Notes to Editors

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

Health boardTotal number seen% seen within 18 weeks
NHS Scotland4,03260.6%
NHS Ayrshire & Arran23391.9%
NHS Borders3271.9%
NHS Dumfries & Galloway9588.4%
NHS Fife27463.9%
NHS Forth Valley18240.1%
NHS Grampian34385.7%
NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Valley1,45147.6%
NHS Highland19874.2%
NHS Lanarkshire24862.1%
NHS Lothian51859.5%
NHS Tayside39657.8%
NHS Island boards6283.9%

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