THE proportion of children in Scotland being treated on time for mental health problems has hit a record low, with more than a third still waiting after the 18-week target.

New figures also revealed more than 800 children and young people waiting over a year.

The figures, produced by Scottish Government statisticians, prompted calls for an urgent review of Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Opposition parties accused the SNP of being distracted by its independence “obsession”.

The target is for 90 per cent of referrals to start treatment within 18 months.

However the data for the three months to September 30 showed just 64.5% of young people seen in this time, down from 69.7% the previous quarter and 69% in September 2018.

It meant 1,386 young people had to wait more than four months to start treatment.

Although half the young children were seen within 13 weeks, the number of patients who waited over a year to be seen rose from 151 (3.8%) to 204 (5.2%) in the quarter.

This was more than double the 93 waiting that long in September 2018.

In NHS Lothian, more than a fifth of children (21.5%) who started treatment between July and September had been waiting more than a year, the worst rate in Scotland.

Another 602 children across Scotland had yet to be seen after waiting over a year.

Around one child in ten aged five to 16 has a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, with half of mental health problems established by the age of 14 and 75% by age 24.

The worsening figures on treatment were in spite of a fall in referrals to CAMHS.

In the quarter to the end of September, 7,379 children and young people were referred, down from 8,382 the previous quarter and from 7,509 in the same quarter last year.

Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone said an urgent review of the service was required.

She said: “Despite the fact that referrals to CAMHS have decreased over the past year, services are still struggling to treat people on time.

“Children and young people in distress are still facing unacceptable waits for treatment, often without interim support. This places significant extra strain on children and their families at what will already be an extremely difficult time.

“When young people in distress cannot access treatment when they need it, something has gone terribly wrong.

“The Scottish Government needs to review this situation urgently and ensure services are getting the support they need to meet demand, or Scotland’s young people will continue to suffer.”

Scottish LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton added: “Just last week the government denied there was a mental health crisis. Today, the length of time children and young people are waiting for treatment is the worst on record. Performance has plummeted.

"The SNP Government is failing a generation of young people and the consequences of their waiting up to two years for treatment are heartbreaking. Problems that start small are becoming crises as help arrives too late.

"Staff are working around the clock but they aren’t getting anywhere close to the support and resources they need. They were promised an integrated workforce plan by the Health Secretary but it's a year late.

"Liberal Democrats will end the SNP's independence obsession and instead build a brighter future, with extra funding to transform mental health services and treat them with the same urgency as physical health.”

Labour MSP Monica Lennon said: “These new figures reveal what we already know - on access to mental health services, the SNP are failing Scotland’s young people. “It’s just not good enough that in 2019 thousands of young people have waited over four months to be seen by specialist mental health services, and hundreds have had to wait over a year.

“At a time when we know youth suicides have been increasing these figures should shame SNP Ministers into action.”

Scottish Tory MSP Annie Wells said: “This is yet another appalling failure from an SNP government that’s been distracted by issues elsewhere.

“Ensuring our young people have access to thorough and prompt mental health treatment should be a priority for this nationalist government.

“Instead, it spends all its time grandstanding and trying to break up the UK. It’s a disgraceful approach, and one for which our most vulnerable young people are paying the price.”

Third sector providers of mental health care for new investment in CAMHS, which currently receives 7% of the mental health budget, and 0.56% of the Scottish NHS budget.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition also warned of a “postcode lottery” of mental health treatment across the country, with only 5 of 14 NHS boards hitting the 18-week target.

A spokesperson for SCSC said: “These latest waiting time figures highlight that fact in this mental health crisis we are continuing to fail thousands of children and young people with mental health problems, with more clearly needing to be done to address this epidemic.

“There must be a radical transformation of our mental health services, with a focus on preventing such problems arising in the first place and intervening early, especially when we know that half of all mental health problems begin before the age of 14.

“This includes embedding mental health within education from an early age as well as providing training for all staff involved in education.

“With mental health and the issues associated with it representing one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, we must ensure that children and young people are able to get the care and support they need, when they need it.

“This includes investing in greater community support and support at school, reducing the need for referral to specialist CAMHS.”

Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey said: "We want to make sure anyone who has identified as needing support can get services that are appropriate to their needs.

"We are making significant changes to meet increasing demand and to ensure everyone gets the right treatment, at the right time and in the right place. This includes the rollout of our £250m package of measures to support positive mental health for all."

She added: "We are also strengthening the support available in communities and schools with mental health first aid training for local authorities, ensuring every secondary school has access to a counselling service by September 2020 and training 250 additional school nurses over the next three years, with 50 already in place this year.

"Since 2007, CAMHS staffing has increased by 74% and in the past year, we have seen an increase of 1.2% - the majority of which was in psychology staff - while we continue to create new posts in this area.

"This year's Programme for Government builds on this progress even further.

"That includes putting in place community well-being services for children and young people aged five to 24 and their families across the whole of Scotland, a new 24/7 crisis support service for children and young people and a new Adult Mental Health Collaborative so public services, the third sector and communities can work closer together to improve support to people suffering from mental ill health."