Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

– in the Scottish Parliament on 21st December 2017.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

3. Gordon Edwards was on the BBC this week. Nicola Sturgeon should remember him—I have spoken before about his wait to get mental health treatment. Now he is angry that spending on mental health for young people has fallen in three health boards, despite Nicola Sturgeon telling him that spending would go up and that waiting times would go down. That was not true, was it?

A majority of the First Minister’s health boards have failed to meet the basic target. In the past three years, more than 10,000 young people have had their mental health treatment delayed. Can Nicola Sturgeon answer this question for Gordon Edwards? How much longer will young people have to wait before she delivers on her mental health promises?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

First, I will address the issue of spending, because I paid close attention to the reports earlier this week that came from freedom of information requests. When we look into the details, the situation is not quite as it appeared to be in those reports. The data that was reported did not compare like with like: for example, it compared actual child and adolescent mental health services expenditure in 2016-17 with budgeted CAMHS expenditure for 2017-18. As members will be aware, those are not comparable figures because, for a variety of reasons, boards will spend more in-year than they originally budget for.

Let us look at one of the boards—NHS Lothian—that was cited in the reports. If we examine actual expenditure in this financial year to date—April to November—and compare it with the same period last year, we see that there has been no reduction. Instead, we see that actual NHS Lothian CAMHS expenditure has increased by 6 per cent. There is an important point of detail—[

Interruption

.] Willie Rennie is saying something from a sedentary position, but I am trying to give him a detailed answer to the very important questions that he asked.

The Government and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport have made it very clear that we have much more work to do to reduce waiting times for mental health treatment to levels that I would consider to be the acceptable levels that we want. That is why we are investing record sums of money in mental health and it is why the number of staff who work in mental health services is increasing. That work will continue until no young people wait longer than we want for the mental health treatment that they need.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I am disappointed with Nicola Sturgeon’s answer: her excuses will not hide the Government’s failings on mental health. Nicola Sturgeon promised that things would get better, but they have got worse. Her ministers delayed the mental health strategy, her ministers delayed millions of pounds of investment, her ministers delayed the suicide prevention plan, and I have now discovered that an important part of the workforce recruitment plan has been delayed by her ministers, as well.

Delay, delay, delay while young people have to wait, wait, and wait. Can Nicola Sturgeon tell us whether she is proud of her record on mental health?

The First Minister:

We will continue to do the work that is required to deliver the mental health services that not just young people, but everybody across our society, have the right to expect.

I appreciate that Willie Rennie is seeking to make a particular point. Anybody who was listening fairly to my last answer would not have heard me make excuses. They would have heard me point out some important facts—it is important that the public have facts about such things—but they would also have heard me acknowledge that we have more work to do. Some of what Willie Rennie said was a mischaracterisation of reality.

Let us take the mental health strategy, for example, which Willie Rennie and I have had exchanges about in the past. The strategy was delayed at the request of the Health and Sport Committee of this Parliament because it wanted more time to contribute to it. It is important in all matters, but particularly in this, that we have a strategy that has the support of the people who work on the front line.

We all know about the pressures on mental health services. More people are coming forward for treatment because of the reduction in stigma, but that places on our shoulders an even bigger responsibility to ensure that we can meet demand. That is why we are investing record sums, why there are record numbers of people working in mental health and why we will continue to get on with the work that needs to be done to ensure that we deliver the mental health services that people have the right to expect.