PUPILS with mental health problems are said to be facing a "postcode lottery" for access to support at school after 14 of Scotland's 32 council said they did not employ the key workers supposed to link children to mental health services.

Another 12 councils said they held no data at all about provision of mental health links workers, despite the Scottish Government saying that they are available to every school in Scotland. The responses have reignited calls for counselling to be provided as standard in all Scottish schools amid "utter confusion" over who is currently responsible for delivering mental health provision.

A named mental health links worker is supposed to be available to all schools in Scotland to act as an initial point of contact for children experiencing mental health difficulties. However, the Scottish Government said the role was "not a specific job title", and may be carried out by a clinician employed by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, such as an educational psychologist, or another primary care specialist.

Scottish Labour inequalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “The SNP claims that every school has access to a mental health link worker, but there is utter confusion over what this role looks like in practice and who is supposed to fulfil it. If schools don’t hold information on who is supposed to be their mental health link worker, children and young people are simply missing out.

"Meanwhile, there is a crisis in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), with thousands of children waiting several months for treatment – often, in the end, only to be turned away. If young people get early support, we know a mental health problem can avoid becoming a crisis."

Both Labour and the Conservatives in Scotland have called for the introduction of a school-based counselling service in every school, along the lines of a model already used in secondary schools Wales for the past decade. The service was designed to guarantee pupils access to professional counselling on-site as required, and was credited with delivering dramatic reductions in children's psychological distress within the first few years after it launched. Teachers also reported improvements in pupils' behaviour in 80 per cent of cases. A similar programme has also been in place in Northern Ireland since 2007.

In Scotland, provision of school counselling is patchy, but the mental health charity SAMH has estimated that rolling out the service to all schools by 2020 would cost an estimated £9 million.

It comes after the Scottish Government announced a review into CAMHS "rejected referrals", after figures revealed that one in five - 17,000 cases - had been knocked back over the past three years.

Kenny Graham of Falkland House School, a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, said early intervention in schools was crucial to reducing pressure on CAMHS and ensuring those with the most urgent mental health difficulties are not turned away or left to deteriorate on lengthy waiting lists. Mr Graham added: “Without school-based counselling or a dedicated mental health link worker available in every school, spotting and addressing issues early on, children and young people are often being unnecessarily referred to specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

"This is contributing to long waiting times for access to treatment, with their conditions often worsening, as well as thousands of referrals being rejected every year, meaning many children and young people are being left in limbo.

"In Wales, where school-based counselling is enshrined in law, 86 per cent of pupils do not need referred to CAMHS after five school sessions. The evidence in support of school-based counselling is compelling.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We take child and adolescent mental health very seriously and that’s why our new Mental Health Strategy is committed to a review of Personal and Social Education in schools to ensure every child has access to any appropriate support, counselling, or pastoral guidance they may need.

"And we will also be rolling out mental health training for those who support children and young people in schools.”