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.”