NHS spending on mental health must be increased to help young people at crisis point

Published on December 12, 2017

Kenny Graham , Head of Education at Falkland House School, writes for the Herald on the need for the Scottish Government to deliver a 'Budget for Mental Health'.

On Thursday Derek Mackay will deliver a speech that sets out the Scottish Government’s spending plans for the next financial year, and speculation over what he will say has been rife. Will he raise income tax for the most wealthy? Will he mirror his UK Government counterpart and provide a helping hand for first-time-buyers? Will he cut the Local Government budget by 3%?

An issue that has also been top of the agenda and will hopefully play a key part in tomorrow’s speech is that of mental health. In recent years there has been several excellent campaigns aimed at normalising mental health issues and these have helped to alter deep-rooted predispositions and drive our society forward to the ultimate goal of parity of esteem; that mental health is treated the same as physical health, with the same openness, investment, and understanding.

In recent years Scotland has made some progress. We now have a new 10-year Mental Health Strategy and a dedicated Minister for Mental Health, who just last week announced £95,000 to establish the Youth Commission on Mental Health Services; a partnership between the Scottish Government, Young Scot, and SAMH which is to be led by young people. These young people will conduct an in-depth study into child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), something that has experienced surging demand in recent years.

With all this increased attention and conversation around mental health you might be surprised to learn that a mere 0.48% of the total NHS Scotland budget is spent on CAMHS, amounting to just over £54 million a year. Meanwhile, only 6.34% of the overall mental health budget is spent on CAMHS. This is despite the fact that 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and 75 per cent by the age of 24.   Research also indicates that 10% of children and young people (aged five to 16) has a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, around three in every classroom.

The latest waiting time figures for access to CAMHS indicate that NHS Scotland failed to meet the Scottish Government 18-week waiting time target during the quarter from April to June 2017. What is equally as concerning is that these figures revealed 37 children and young people had been waiting over a year to be seen. Four and a half months is already a long time to wait for treatment, when many young people have reached crisis point. To wait over a year is simply unacceptable.

It is for these reasons and a host of others that the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition has called on Derek Mackay to triple current NHS Scotland spending on mental health services for children and young people by delivering a ‘Budget for Mental health’. This would see Scotland simply matching the proportion of the NHS budget spent on CAMHS in England and would equate to an extra £100 million a year; a small price to pay to ensure the mental wellbeing of the next generation.

The coalition has also called for a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention. This includes greater school-based counselling services, on-demand counselling services in GP surgeries, training of school staff and greater community support more generally, which would help to reduce the need for referral to under-pressure specialist CAMHS.

The Scottish Government must use this budget to realise its ambitions of achieving a sea change in mental health, but that means putting the necessary resourcing in place to achieve this goal.

Kenny Graham is Head of Education at Falkland House School, member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition.

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