Mental Health Services (Rural Areas)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th February 2021.

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Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

8. To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of mental health services in rural areas. (S5O-05064)

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

As part of our national health service remobilisation process, health boards were asked to submit plans that include mental health services, and we have been working closely with all territorial boards, including those covering rural areas, throughout the pandemic to plan the recovery of services across Scotland. The needs of rural areas are taken into account both in response to the pandemic and in our plan for recovery. The Scottish Government acknowledges the difficulties that some people can face in accessing services in rural areas and is committed to providing clear, comprehensive and accessible support for mental health.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

Shocking new figures on suicide from the Office for National Statistics show that 123 agricultural workers across Britain, including 21 in Scotland, took their lives in 2019. A recent study by the Farm Safety Foundation found that 88 per cent of farmers under the age of 40 now rank poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today.

Given that the pandemic and the measures to control it have exacerbated the problems of isolation and access to services in rural communities, does the minister agree that we need better-targeted mental health support, in particular focused on prevention and early identification of the risks associated with working in agriculture?

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

The needs of rural areas and their communities are taken into account in our response to the pandemic and our plan for recovery. We have provided a range of funding to support mental health, including an expansion of the NHS 24 mental health hub phone lines, so that service is now available 24 hours a day, seven days a week; increasing capacity of the breathing space telephone and web support service; increased capacity for digital delivery, including computerised cognitive behavioural therapy; and an expansion of the Distress Brief Intervention programme, so that anyone who phones the NHS 24 mental health hub in emotional distress from anywhere in Scotland who does not need emergency clinical intervention and is assessed as appropriate for referral to DBI can be referred to the programme.

So far, more than 2,000 people have been referred for DBI support via that pathway since it went live in the spring of 2020.

The mental health transition and recovery plan, to which I have referred in previous answers, provides an outline of our continuing response to the mental health impacts of Covid-19. The plan recognises the challenges of rural isolation and includes action to work with the national rural mental health forum to develop an approach to ensure that rural communities have equal and timely access to mental health support and services, regardless of where they are in the country.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

Freedom of information requests found that the 18 week target for child and adolescent mental health services had been breached by a total of 1,316 days in Shetland in 2020-21. Staff are doing everything that they can, but it is clear that we need more boots on the ground to deal with the mental health crisis. What is being done to get more professionals in the pipeline in rural and island communities?

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

I am very familiar with mental health services in Shetland, having visited them on a couple of occasions. I commend them for the work that they have done.

CAMHS staffing under this Scottish National Party Government has increased by 76 per cent, but we recognise that there has been an increase in demand, and there has been an impact on waiting times due to Covid restrictions.

However, services across Scotland are remobilising. As I said in a previous answer, we are supporting boards that are having more difficulty and more challenges in tackling their waiting times. The £120 million that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance announced last week will help us to deliver our transition and recovery plan and to tackle some of the backlogs in CAMHS services, ensuring that young people get the service that they need.