The SCSC News

More than 1,600 children have been waiting over a year for mental health treatment

Published on September 8, 2021
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition makes a call for significantly increased investment in mental health services amid warnings of a mental health pandemic.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance of leading providers of children’s services, has called for significantly increased investment in mental health services and warned of a mental health pandemic as the impacts of Covid-19 on the young become clearer.

The call comes as new figures published today (7th September 2021) from Public Health Scotland indicate that at the end of June 2021, 1,686 children and young people had been waiting over a year for treatment from specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) (PDF) provided by the NHS. This figure represents a doubling from June 2020 (787). They also represent 14.4 per cent of those waiting for specialist treatment. 

With already under-resourced and overstretched services facing overwhelming pressure due to increased demand, the SCSC has raised concerns over a potential “lost generation” of vulnerable children and young people whose mental health is being impacted by Covid-19.

Even prior to the pandemic cases of poor mental health were at unprecedented levels and there are a growing number of vulnerable children who cannot access adequate support. This was further reinforced by a recent blog post from Antony Clark, a director for public health watchdog Audit Scotland, who noted that “serious concerns have existed for years”, and that action was now more urgent given the impact of the pandemic on young people.

Figures issued last month showed that self-harm among the young in Scotland was at its highest level for 14 years and this is undoubtedly only the tip of the iceberg.

While 4,552 children and young people were treated over the period April to June 2021 by CAMHS (PDF), only 72.6 per cent were seen within the Scottish Government’s waiting time target for the NHS of 18 weeks from referral to treatment (met for at least 90 per cent of patients). Nine out of 14 health boards failed to meet this target (full table in Notes to Editors).

In addition to increased investment in mental health services, the SCSC has called for a renewed focus on expanded prevention and early intervention services, reducing the need for referral to costly specialist CAMHS. It has also called for greater partnership working between the public, private and third sectors as well as greater awareness of the services on offer, especially those at a community level.

A spokesperson for the SCSC commented:

“These frightening statistics highlight the challenges ahead. While we welcome a commitment by the Scottish Government to increase investment in mental health services to 1 per cent of NHS spending over the next five years, we need this investment now.  One of the key issues faced is that early intervention support has not been available due to funding restrictions.  This proposed increased investment should therefore not just apply to specialist mental health services but include investing in preventative and early intervention services. Increasing resourcing in support services and intervention strategies must be a priority for the government, limiting the need for highly costly CAMHS.

“We have for some time raised concerns over a potential lost generation of vulnerable children and young people, whose mental health is being impacted even further by the Covid-19 pandemic.  It is more important than ever that children can access the support they need, when they need it, irrespective of where they live.

“This is a crisis we can overcome, but it will require a similar energy and commitment to that demonstrated for Covid-19 if we are to achieve this and prevent many young people giving up on their futures.”


Notes to Editors

Waiting times (with adjustments) for people who started their treatment from April to June 2021, by NHS Board of treatment.

Health board Total number seen % seen within 18 weeks
NHS Scotland 4,552 72.6%
NHS Ayrshire & Arran 343 98.8%
NHS Borders 102 53.9%
NHS Dumfries & Galloway 77 36.4%
NHS Fife 411 73.7%
NHS Forth Valley 144 54.2%
NHS Grampian 433 90.8%
NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Valley 1,277 72.2%
NHS Highland 232 67.2%
NHS Lanarkshire 286 57.3%
NHS Lothian 832 63.2%
NHS Tayside 351 80.1%
NHS Island Boards 64 95.3%


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