Almost 600 children and young people have been waiting more than a year for specialist mental health care, according to new figures.
NHS data from the end of December 2019 reveals 589 people had been on the waiting list for 52 weeks or more to get an appointment with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs).
Meanwhile, 272 children and young people who were seen for the first time in the last three months of 2019 had waited more than a year for their appointment.
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By the end of December 2019, there were 10,820 children and young people waiting for Camhs help, up from a total of 9,337 the previous year.
The number waiting for treatment has gone from a low of 7,620 in the last three months of 2017, to a high of 10,820 at the end of the most recent quarter.
Meanwhile, from October to December 2019, 3,884 children and young people started treatment with Camhs, a drop of 14.1 per cent from the total of 4,523 recorded in the same period in 2018.
The Scottish government has set the target for 90 per cent of patients being seen within 18 weeks, but in 2019 there were 5,027 children and young people who waited longer than this before receiving help.
In the final three months of the year, the target was achieved for 66.4 per cent, down from the 72.8 per cent in the last quarter of 2018.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “At the same time as these unbearable waits were being recorded, SNP ministers at Parliament were voting to deny that there is a mental health crisis in Scotland. These statistics show how wrong that was.
“Staff are working around the clock but they aren’t getting anywhere close to the support and resources they need.”
Labour MSP Mary Fee said: “At a time when youth suicides have been increasing, these figures should shame SNP ministers into action.”
Children’s campaigners at Barnardo’s Scotland stressed that the Camhs statistics were “just a small part of the bigger picture of children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing”.
David Ferguson, assistant director of policy and influencing for the charity, said: “There is a danger that too much of a focus on waiting times for specialist services is distracting us from thinking more innovatively about potential solutions to the problems facing our children and young people.
“We believe that children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing could be vastly improved if the right support was available for the adults who care for them every day.”
Mental health minister Clare Haughey said: “To shorten waits for treatment, we are making significant changes to meet increasing demand and to ensure everyone gets the right treatment, at the right time and in the right place.
“Since 2007, Camhs staffing has increased by 76 per cent and, in the past year, we have seen an increase of 1.3 per cent – the majority of which was in psychology staff – while we continue to create new posts in this area.
“We are also strengthening the support available in communities and schools with mental health first aid training for local authorities, ensuring every secondary school has access to a counselling service by September 2020 and training 250 additional school nurses over the next three years, with 50 already in place this year.”
She added: “This year’s Programme for Government builds on this progress even further. That includes putting in place community wellbeing services for children and young people aged five to 24 and their families across the whole of Scotland, a new 24/7 crisis support service for children and young people, and a new Adult Mental Health Collaborative so public services, the third sector and communities can work closer together to improve support to people suffering from mental ill health.”