Rennie reveals “appalling” child mental health waits

There are five key elements to the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ main themes for this General Election. We plant ourselves firmly on the side of the majority of people in Scotland – pro EU, pro UK and progressive. And we say that our priorities for any extra money coming to Scotland are education and mental health. None of this is particularly surprising as Willie Rennie has been banging on about it for years.

The SNP is in charge of health and education in Scotland and has failed miserably on both. This week very poor literacy figures came out. Given every child under 15 has received their entire education under the SNP.

One barrier to being able to make the most of education is poor mental health. Willie has been talking for some time about a constituent whose child had to wait a year for mental health treatment. If you think about it, that’s a sixth of their secondary education. Once proper support begins, it’s not a quick job to restore good health so the impact on children’s lives is real and damaging.

New statistics acquired by the party through freedom of information requests have shown that five big Scottish health boards, including Lothians, Fife and Highland, recorded cases of children waiting over a year for mental health treatment in 2016/17 or on their current waiting lists.

They include children and young people waiting:

666 days in Lothian before starting treatment in 2016/17
623 days in Highland before starting treatment in 2016/17
611 days in Fife currently
448 days in Ayrshire and Arran currently
385 days in Grampian before starting treatment in 2016/17

After publishing the new figures, Willie commented:

It is appalling to learn that children and young people are still waiting almost two years for the mental health treatment they need. Waiting more than 600 days for help must feel like a lifetime. SNP ministers should hang their heads in shame.

These new statistics show why SNP Government was so wrong to reject the opportunity to invest to transform mental health services in its budget. It shows the damage caused by its letting the mental health strategy expire for 15 months. Its replacement has finally been published but charities and pressure groups have rightly declared it lacks ambition, detail and investment.

For years, the First Minister has told me time after time of her commitment to mental health but there is very little evidence of improvement. The urgency and the scale of the investment that we need to see is simply not there.

Staff are doing their best but there is nowhere near enough resources or early interventions. This is yet another example of the SNP’s obsession with independence taking its toll.

Only the Liberal Democrats have set out a comprehensive and positive plan that will deliver a step change in mental health. This includes ending the underfunding of mental health, new units for children and more professionals at more locations capable of delivering therapies. That is the way to give every child a chance of getting on in life.”

Dr Jean Davis, Liberal Democrat candidate for Ross, Skye and Lochaber added:

It is intolerable to learn that children, last year and right now, have been waiting over 600 days for mental health treatment in the Highlands.

To make matters worse, there are still no specialist mental health beds for children north of Dundee. There is no justification for forcing children to travel hundreds of miles from home for the treatment they need.

Only the Liberal Democrats will deliver the stepchange in mental health that is so desperately needed.

One thing that they didn’t mention is that making children wait for almost a third of their secondary education before even getting treatment is bad enough – but the things put in place to support them are withdrawn rapidly once they reach 18. When Norman Lamb was Health Minister with responsibility for mental health in England, he was open to the idea of extending the scope of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service to 25, with extra resource. It’s something that we should be thinking about in Scotland.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings