Child mental health spending drops

Gordon Edwards
Image caption Gordon says he struggled to access CAMHS services but has been diagnosed since he turned 18

Three Scottish NHS boards are spending less on child mental health services than last year despite failing to meet waiting times, the BBC has learned.

The 18-week waiting time standard was met by six of Scotland's 14 NHS boards in the last quarter.

One of the health boards that cut funding - Grampian - met the target in just a third of cases and had an average wait of 21 weeks.

Tayside and Lothian also reduced the amount spent on child mental health.

Freedom of information

NHS Lothian, which cut funding by the largest amount (£390,000), saw just 57% of child referrals within the 18-week target during the last quarter.

NHS Grampian and NHS Tayside both cut spending by £80,000. Tayside could not provide waiting time figures for the last quarter due to data management changes.

The spending figures come from freedom of information requests made by Dr Richard Simpson, the former MSP and Labour public health spokesman, who is honorary professor of health sciences at the University of Stirling.

He received responses from Scotland's 11 mainland health boards - three cut spending, one reported no change, another three increased spending by less than inflation and four put up funding by substantially more than last year.

Despite large percentage rises in spending on CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) in Ayrshire and Arran (10.57%), Lanarkshire (9.76%), Highland (8.96%) and Forth Valley (7.42%), the overall spending for the 11 mainland NHS boards rose by less than inflation.

Average waits

The Scottish government has set a standard to deliver a maximum wait of 18 weeks from referral to treatment. It wants to deliver this in at least 90% of cases.

The average waits have been rising during 2017 and the percentage seen within the 18-week target has dropped from 82.5% at the end of last year to 73.3% in the three months to September.

Grampian was the worst performer (33.1%), whereas Glasgow and Clyde saw almost all patients within the target time (97.8%).

Gordon's story

Gordon from Bathgate in West Lothian said he was assessed three times for CAMHS between the ages of 16 and 18 but was told they could not help him.

He said he was suffering from insomnia, anxiety and hallucinations but was told his problems related to his autism.

Gordon said: "In order to manage the burden on their waiting lists people are just getting shoved to one side and told to find another service for help. It is dangerous."

When Gordon became 18 he was able to access adult mental health services and has now been proscribed anti-psychotic drugs.

"All I wanted was help and now I have got that my life has improved quite a lot," he said.

'Centrally managed'

Image caption Dr Richard Simpson said he was "shocked" by the cuts

Dr Simpson told the BBC he was "shocked" that boards were cutting funding when waiting times targets were not being met.

He said: "The NHS in Scotland is centrally managed and there is no excuse for the government not asking for the figures and then in the annual review of the health boards saying to them 'this is unacceptable'.

"It is disgraceful that this is allowed to occur."

Dr Simpson said the government should be imposing themselves on the health boards and "if necessary, ring-fencing the money".

Image caption Kenny Graham said all waits were difficult for young people

Kenny Graham, head of education at Falkland House residential school and a spokesman for the Scottish Children's Services Coalition (SCSC), said he found the funding cuts "very disappointing".

"The spending levels are low anyway but to discover a number of health boards are reducing spending despite not meeting agreed targets is worrying," he said.

Mr Graham said that for children suffering with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, behavioural issues or ADHD any wait would be difficult but waiting times beyond 18 weeks can be "really challenging".

Emergency appointments

An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said they were recruiting for additional clinical staff.

In the meantime, she said NHS Grampian was focused on seeing the children "requiring urgent and emergency appointments".

She said the service "regrets that our waiting time continues to fall short" and they are reviewing all options to improve matters.

A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside said the health board had spent £240,000 more last year than it had budgeted for.

She said that was due to "non-recurring" funds with aim of reducing waiting times.

The spokeswoman said this year's budget of £6.34m was £160,000 more than the planned spend for the previous year.

Prof Alex McMahon, nurse director of NHS Lothian, said more young people than ever before were accessing mental health services.

He said: "We are working through a detailed recovery plan to target waiting lists and have begun by prioritising those who have been waiting longest.

"We are beginning to see improvements in the length of time people have to wait, but there is still a lot of work to do and we apologise to patients who have been waiting longer than they should."

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