Nicola Sturgeon admits children’s mental health services have suffered during pandemic

Georgina Hayes
·2-min read
Latest data shows that referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services have more than halved since the start of the pandemic  - AFP
Latest data shows that referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services have more than halved since the start of the pandemic - AFP

The coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected children’s mental health services, the First Minister admitted, as it emerged that referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Scotland have more than halved since the start of the crisis.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said that a reduction in face-to-face consultations across the NHS as a whole has had an impact on children’s mental health services. 

It comes as latest data from Public Health Scotland shows that almost 40 per cent of young people are waiting more than 18 weeks to start treatment, despite the Scottish Government’s target being that 90 per cent of people should begin treatment upon referral.

While the Scottish Government released its mental health recovery plan earlier this month, experts have raised concerns that it fails to address the most serious issues facing children’s mental health services - namely around funding for specialised services.

“What we are trying to do, and this pre-dates Covid, but is obviously made all the more important because of Covid, is not just invest significantly in CAMHS, which we have been doing, but also redesign the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service landscape to put more of an emphasis on early intervention,” Ms Sturgeon said.

This should “speed up” the waiting times faced by those who do need specialist care, she said.

"We need to make sure that for everybody who needs access to CAMHS that that is a short a journey as possible, and we’re very focused on that," she added.

But Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, said that struggling young people “deserve better” than to join one of the longest queues in the health service.

"Over the past eight months young people have experienced the disruption of their education, removal of freedom and the loss of contact with loved ones. Some have spent stressful spells in isolation and have seen the virus personally touch their family,” he told the Telegraph.

"It is inevitable that more children and young people need help and support. But they deserve better than to join what these statistics show was already one of the longest queues in the entire health service.

"To avoid this queue getting longer and longer we immediately need a far-reaching NHS recovery plan and an unprecedented investment in mental health services and staff."