Concerns over the time vulnerable children and young people are waiting for mental health assessments was one of the issues raised during this week’s annual review of NHS Forth Valley.
Aileen Campbell, Minister for Public Health and Sport, was at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert on Tuesday to meet health board officials, NHS staff, patients and partners to discuss the service being provided for the region’s residents.
Following a visit to the Children’s Ward, she hosted a public session where a presentation was given by NHS Forth Valley chairman Alex Linkston followed by an opportunity for questions.
It was then that former MSP and Clackmannanshire GP Dr Richard Simpson queried recent figures that he said showed only 39 per cent of referrals to the health board’s Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were seen within the 18-week target set by the Scottish Government.
He said: “What additional measures are being introduced? Five per cent of children referred are not being seen for over 35 weeks.
“When children are waiting this long, unless there is some very valid reason, there is a problem.”
He also questioned what was being done about all those whose referral was rejected, adding the number could be as high as a quarter of all referred, and what efforts were being made to attract additional staff.
Jane Grant, NHS Forth Valley chief executive, said: “You are right to raise the issue of CAMHS. We have worked hard to increase staff and increase the number of patients seen.
“There are still some challenges around staffing, although we have been recruiting. But there has been a significant increase in the number of referrals.
“We have carried out a service redesign to enable us to deliver to patients who are in most need and the issue of those rejected is part of this.”
Gillian Morton, who as general manager of women and children’s services is in charge of CAMHS, admitted it was operating in “challenging” times.
She said: “Our new model worked for a few months but then we decided to have a full-scale redesign and that started in April this year.
“No-one on the list is waiting over a year but we are not happy that children are having to wait 26 weeks.
“Staffing is challenging and it is definitely a buyer’s market. We are recruiting but then find that our own staff are moving on as other boards recruit.”
Ms Morton said the service was working with the National Mental Health Team to bring about improvements.
Research shows that one in ten children and young people have a mental health problem and 75 per cent go untreated.
The Scottish Government has pledged an additional £150 million to youth mental health services over the next ifve years in a bid to bring down waiting times.
But the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said it is still under resourced with only 0.46 per cent of the NHS Scotland budget spent on CAMHS, amounting to 5.56 per cent of the total mental health budget.
Figures issued by ISD Scotland show that in Forth Valley, in the first quarter of 2016, there were 489 referrals to CAMHS and, of these, 101 were rejected.
Only 44.2 per cent were seen within the 18-week target with 55.1 per cent waiting between 19 and 35 weeks.
Three children (0.8 per cent) waited between nine and 12 months.