2. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that children and young people who attempt to take their own lives have to wait weeks for specialist mental health support. (S5T-01733)
The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that children and young people get access to the mental health support that they need, and recognises the distress that is caused to children, young people and their families by any delay in accessing mental health support.
Children and young people are a particular focus in the suicide prevention action plan that was published in August 2018. I have established a national suicide prevention leadership group, which is chaired by the former deputy chief constable, Rose Fitzpatrick. The membership of the group is broad, and includes representation from the health and social care, justice and third sectors; local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; and clinical professionals, young people—importantly—and people whose lives have been affected by suicide. The Scottish Government is working with the NSPLG to ensure that all the actions of the suicide prevention action plan consider the needs of children and young people.
In June 2018, the Government tried to sneak out an audit report on rejected referrals to child and adolescent mental health services, which found a belief among patients that unless the situation was serious enough, the individual would not be seen. Nine months ago, Audit Scotland published a report on CAMHS, which found that young people were not getting appropriate care until they reached crisis point. This weekend, it was reported that a teenager who had already tried to take her own life had to wait a further four weeks to be seen. Given the urgency and seriousness of the situation, does that sound like adequate progress to the minister?
Long waits for CAMHS treatment and support are unacceptable, which is why we set out in the 2018 programme for government a £250 million package of measures to support positive mental health and prevent mental ill health.
We also formed the children and young people’s mental health task force, and its delivery plan was published at the end of December. Next month, it will publish its recommendations on how mental health services can be improved for children and young people and their families.
It does not sound to me—or, I am sure, to many people who are listening—as though much progress is being made. One in four children and young people is still having to wait more than four months to be seen for their first appointment. Last month, during the statement on the NHS Tayside interim report, the minister refuted a suggestion from Miles Briggs that the issue of services not taking suicidal patients seriously was “widespread” across the country. Given the reports over the weekend, does the minister stand by that statement and is she, after a full year in the job, really so unaware of the issues on the ground?
At the end of March, 26,740 children and young people were under the care of CAMHS services across Scotland. That is a testament to the amount of work that the CAMHS staff do in supporting children and young people at a time when they are feeling particularly vulnerable. However, there is much more for us to do. That is why I am looking forward to the recommendations from the children and young people’s mental health task force and to working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to set out how we will address those recommendations. I am sure that Mary Fee will be interested to hear the response to that when we make a statement in September about the progress of the mental health strategy.
Figures released in May show that the Scottish Government is falling woefully short of getting anywhere near its target number of mental health workers. Despite a promise in the mental health strategy to recruit 800 additional workers by 2021-22, as of April this year, only 186 whole-time equivalents had been recruited. Can the minister guarantee today that the Government will meet that target?
We are reporting quarterly on the additional workers under action 15 of the mental health strategy. The most recent figures were published in May and further figures will be published in August. We are certainly keeping close track of those. We are working hard with our colleagues in health boards and integration joint boards to ensure that we get the workers in those key target areas as quickly and appropriately as we can.