Children have been forced to wait more than year for treatment after being referred to mental health services in Tayside.
One mental health campaigner described the figure as “frightening”.
Figures released by NHS Tayside in response to a Freedom of Information request revealed the longest wait for treatment to begin at the health board’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health service was 425 days – around 14 months.
A small number of children were also required to wait more than a year for their treatment to begin.
However, the health board said no child – defined as someone under the age of 16 or 18 if in full-time education – on the current waiting list for treatment has been on it for longer than 305 days.
Mental health campaigner Gillian Murray said there is “no excuse” for such lengthy delays between referral and treatment starting.
She said: “That’s frightening that a child has had to wait over a year for treatment, there’s no excuse for any wait that long.
“Isn’t there meant to be a set time limit when you’re legally meant to be seen?
“It definitely shows how poorly patients are being treated by NHS Tayside but I think those figures would likely be the same throughout Scotland, to be honest.”
Ms Murray’s uncle David Ramsay killed himself after being turned away from the Carsewive Centre at Ninewells Hospital and has campaigned for an independent review into mental health services in Tayside.
An NHS Tayside spokeswoman said patients are prioritised according to need.
She said: “There has been a lot of work undertaken by staff in our Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to improve access to services for young people in Tayside over the past 12 months.
“We have been working closely with Healthcare Improvement Scotland Mental Health Access Improvement Support (HIS) Team to deliver an improvement plan which will reduce waiting times. This includes a full CAMHS service workforce review and recruitment drive to key posts, to ensure that the team are fully equipped to manage the service demand and enhance the experience for children and their families.
“We are determined to continue making improvements to ensure all our children and young people receive the best quality care without delays and we hope to reach the national standard in the near future.
“When a child or young person is referred into CAMHS their referral will be scrutinised by our Clinical Specialist Referral Management Team and prioritised by clinical need into urgent, soon or routine. It is important that a child or young person who requires an intervention is seen by the right person at the right time.”
“Every day we get calls to our Parents Helpline from parents whose children have been waiting up to 18 months for treatment,” chief executive Sarah Brennan says.
Chloe is now getting help with her mental health.
“I now see a psychiatrist on a fairly regular basis and it helps to be able to be open about how I feel now.”
“As this report shows, we need to see urgent action across the board,” says Claire Murdoch, the national mental health director for NHS England.
She says the CQC is right to highlight the need for there to be “better cross-sector working” involving health providers, schools, regulators and government – as well as children and parents.
Scotland’s mental health minister Maureen Watt says the government will “continue to support the improvement of mental health services through the £150 million of extra funding we’re providing over five years to help deliver our Mental Health Strategy”.
Youngsters in Tayside are facing an “alarming” mental health crisis after care bosses admitted standards have plummeted in six months.
The number of kids getting help for mental health problems within a reasonable time frame dropped from 96.6% in June 2017 to 43.9% in December.
The rate covers the proportion of youngsters who are referred to and seen by NHS Tayside’s child and adolescent mental health services (CAHMS) team within a target of 18 weeks.
Across Scotland, the target health boards are expected to meet is 90%.
Keiran Watson, of youth support charity Eighteen and Under, said he found it “alarming” that less than half of kids were being seen on time.
He said: “As it is, the 18-week timescale is too long.
“If you’re a young person who is feeling depressed or has delusions, or is self-harming or even feeling suicidal — or if you are a parent of a young person like that — can you imagine being faced with an 18-week wait?
“The fact that less than half of young people are being seen within that 18-week target is shocking. It’s really quite alarming.”
Lorna Wiggin, NHS Tayside’s chief operating officer, told the health board at a meeting this week the slide was due to staff shortages equivalent to 3.3 full time workers.
She said: “Previous attempts to recruit have been unsuccessful. However, the posts have been re-advertised and interviews are due to take place in March.”
Ms Wiggin said significant improvements would not happen until those positions are filled, but added that high-priority children can be seen within five days of referral if their case is judged to be an emergency. We’re expecting a slight improvement in the next three months, but not a major one.
“We were able to rely on adult (mental health) services for some support but they’re not able to do that now.”
NHS Tayside may well reach out to other health boards for support with CAMHS in the near future.
Chief executive Lesley McLay said she had requested a review of the system with managers to avoid any further repeats of the situation.
She added: “We recognise that action is already happening (to improve performance). We may involve another health board as well.”