NICOLA Sturgeon has acknowledged an expected “backlog” in mental health appointments when Scotland’s NHS restarts – amid fears a failure to meet waiting time targets will be exacerbated by the effects of the lockdown on people’s wellbeing. 

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) has warned of a “perfect storm” of a mental health crisis coupled with further cuts to some services following the coronavirus outbreak after new statistics revealed that more than one third of children and young people are waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment. 

The First Minister has admitted that more demand is likely to be put on services as Scotland’s health services restart and acknowledged that technology such as Computerised Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CCBT), with consultations taking place remotely, are likely to play a key role in helping to ease the backlog.  

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: Online therapy part of £3.8m of mental health funding

New data from Health Protection Scotland found that from January to March, 4,093 children and young people started treatment at specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). Of these patients, only 65 per cent received this treatment within the Scottish Government’s 18-week waiting time target from referral to treatment – meaning little more than one third are not being seen within the waiting time target. 

 All Scottish health boards, except island communities failed to meet the Scottish Government’s 18-week waiting time target for children and young people – with rules stating this should be delivered for at least 90 per cent of patients. The progress was as low as 54 per cent for both NHS Lothian and NHS Forth Valley, 58 per cent for NHS Lanarkshire and 59 per cent for NHS Great Glasgow and Clyde. 

READ MORE: Health secretary warned of PTSD risk in Scotland's frontline workers

The SCSC has called for more funding for mental health services for children and young people ahead of an expected influx in appointments needed to tackle the effects of the lockdown. 

An SCSC spokesperson said: “These latest waiting time figures highlight that nearly all of Scotland’s health boards are failing to meet the Scottish Government waiting time target for treatment. Along with cuts in services this points to a perfect storm of a mental health crisis as we come out of lockdown, coupled with further cuts in services. 

 “While referrals have dropped during lockdown and children are not accessing support, we are storing up immense problems for the future as these same under-pressure services face being overwhelmed due to a greatly increased demand.   

“Children are not currently getting access to social services and are not going to school or reporting their experiences. Taking them to see the GP may currently be considered low priority. It is important to stress that these services are still available and the Scottish Government must look to support these young people as we come out of lockdown by investing significantly in services.” 

READ MORE: Scotland's new 'pandemic' of domestic abuse and mental health problems

A study by Young Scot and the Scottish Youth Parliament found that almost two fifths of young people felt moderately or extremely concerned about their mental wellbeing while YouthLink Scotland has claimed the youth-work sector is facing a mental health crisis due to budget constraints. 

Speaking at her daily media briefing, Ms Sturgeon stressed that “there’s probably no element of our health service and waiting times that haven’t been impacted y coronavirus and the difficulty in seeing patients face-to-face". 

She added: “In mental health services as well as health services, there will be, as we come out of this crisis, a backlog of consultations and procedures that haven’t been able to happen during the period of the virus. We will need to deal with that. 

READ MORE: Scottish Government apologises to mental health patients 'let down' in Tayside

“I think it is self-evident that the lockdown and the impact on our emotional and mental health of the virus will be such that there will be potentially a greater demand for support and advice for people – we have to factor that into our planning as we go forward.” 

The First Minister believes that remote and digital consultations will play a key role as the NHS restarts – with social distancing set to remain in place for some time. 

READ MORE: Scottish Government staff off due to mental illness on the increase

She said: “Both for mental health and for some other consultations in the health service, I do think we should look to maximise that in the future.  

“There’s no aspect of this virus that hasn’t been awful and terrible, but it has necessitated some changes in how we deliver health and other public services that we should not lose as we come out of the crisis. 

“Some of these developments are positive and as we come out of a crisis period, we should try to continue to protect and build on them.”