NHS SHETLAND has insisted that it consistently provides good access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) after new figures showed the cumulative waiting time in excess of the 18-week standard shot up from 28 days in 2019/20 to 1,316 days in the current year.
The dramatic increase by a whopping 4,600 per cent came to light following a freedom of information request by the Liberal Democrats. The longest wait for a child or young person before starting treatment has been 170 days in the 2020/21.
Local MSP Beatrice Wishart described the figures as alarming and “potentially dangerous”, and said they clearly showed the strain mental health services in Shetland have been under since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But director for nursing and acute services Kathleen Carolan said the health board’s most recent data for waiting times for CAMHS showed that 60 per cent of young people had been waiting for less than 18 weeks, and the longest wait was 29 weeks.
Wishart said these figures show a “stark picture”, highlighting “that a huge amount of work is needed to improve mental health provision in Shetland”.
She said: “Young people seeking mental health support should not have to endure the waiting times like these. Asking for help isn’t easy, and long waiting times aren’t just disheartening. They are potentially dangerous.”
The target for starting CAMHS treatment in Scotland is 18 weeks.
Defending the service the health board provides, Carolan said: “Over the last three years the CAMHS team in Shetland has put in place new ways of working ensure that all young people have an initial assessment and commencement of therapy, if it is required, within 18 weeks.
“And, as the nationally published figures show, NHS Shetland had been consistently providing good access to CAMHS. Prior to the pandemic, access to CAMHS in Shetland was the best in Scotland.”
She added: “Providing effective and responsive CAMHS support is a priority for us as a board and we recognise that it is even more critical at this time that we can offer effective services to support young people manage their mental health and wellbeing coming through the pandemic.”
Carolan also said that a number of key people in the team had moved on in 2020 and recruitment to vacant posts had been successful.
Wishart added: “While the pandemic was always going to create problems, the toll seems to have been acutely felt in Shetland. I know staff will be doing the best they can in extremely difficult circumstances, but these figures show that more help is needed.
“It is easy with numbers like these to forget what they really represent. Behind them all are individuals and families being wracked with worry. The Scottish Government has a duty to invest in this and ensure mental health services in Shetland are made available more efficiently.”
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