NEARLY 20 children and teenagers a day in Scotland are being turned away from mental health services, amid warnings that inappropriate referrals are clogging waiting lists and young people are being left to deteriorate before finally undergoing treatment.
Neil Findlay, convener of the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee called for an investigation after 6,931 referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were rejected in 2015.
Evidence to the committee suggested that a surge in diagnoses for autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was putting pressure on services, while the number of children under-15 in Scotland prescribed anti-depressants has more than doubled since 2009 from 560 to 1,123.
Loading article content
Social Work Scotland said that inappropriate CAMHS referrals, particularly by GPs, were "leading to a high volume and in turn exacerbating waiting times".
However, mental health charity Penumbra blamed an "unacceptable lack of focus" on lower-level community resources for forcing GPs into CAMHS referrals.
It added: "This may be why approximately 20 per cent of referrals to CAMHS are rejected as 'not appropriate', which in practice means they are not sufficiently ill enough to receive support despite having sought help from a professional for identifiable mental health difficulties.
"Without access to lower level support the mental health of many [children and young people] progressively worsens until they are deemed suitable to access CAMHS."
However, the Committee also heard that triage - a process of determining patients' priority for treatment based on the severity of their condition - "often takes place" before a CAMHS referral, so it was "difficult to understand why rejected referrals are at such a high level".
A spokesman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said: "What is crucial here is for a review to establish why these referrals are being rejected, with many of these children and young people often waiting months before seeing a specialist, and to establish consistent criteria across the country for this.
"More importantly, it needs to be ascertained what is happening to these rejected referrals and that they are being followed-up on and offered prompt alternative support."
It comes as the Scottish Government prepares to publish its new 10-year strategy for mental health in early 2017.
In a letter to Minister for Mental Health, Maureen Watt, Mr Findlay said referral pathways must be "clear and consistent across the country".
Mr Findlay said: “There is a very significant number of children and young people whose referrals are being rejected, and there is no clear understanding of why that is the case. It seems logical to me that we need a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of what's going on."
He called for a "clear, funded and measurable timetable" for CAMHS waiting times delays to be eradicated.
The most recent statistics show that only 78.8 per cent of patients were being seen within the 18-week target for referral to treatment, with performance dipping as low as 38 per cent in Grampian and 51 per cent and 56 per cent respectively in Forth Valley and Lothian.
Maureen Watt, Minister for Mental Health, said: “Mental health is an absolute priority for this Government, as demonstrated by our additional £150 million investment over five years in improving treatment and innovation. Mental health spending has increased substantially under this Government and has supported the increase in the mental health workforce to historically high levels.”