THE full scale of the health harms caused by the pandemic “may not be felt for years to come”, according to Holyrood report.

A Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) briefing paper drawn up by Holyrood researchers warns that more than 15,000 people in Scotland have been waiting more than a year for treatment, with 195,000 fewer hospital admissions and 7,000 fewer cancer diagnoses than average since the Covid crisis began.

The paper, which sets out the key challenges and priorities facing MSPs in the new parliamentary term, adds: “Perhaps more worrying is the scale of the unknown health impact created by the pandemic in the longer term.

“This not only arises from delays in seeking and receiving treatment, but also from an increase in unhealthy lifestyle behaviours like reduced physical activity and unhealthy eating, the harms of which may not be felt for years to come.”

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The paper notes that the crisis has also impacted on the nation’s mental health, stating: “The Scottish mental health tracker has shown almost a quarter (24.1 per cent) of respondents had depressive symptoms at levels that may warrant treatment, with 13.3% reporting suicidal thoughts in the previous week. It is too early to know whether this has filtered through to deaths by suicide in 2020.”

Severe Covid-19 infection has been associated with poorer mental health.

A report for the Scottish Government found that up to one-third of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital develop serious mental health consequences, including depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and cognitive problems.

The SPICe paper adds that waiting times for mental health have increased during 2020, with 14% of children and young people who had been referred for treatment waiting more than 53 weeks by December 2020 compared to 5.4% in December 2019.

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The Scottish Government has also announced a £120 million Recovery and Renewal Fund for Mental Health, but the SPICe report says that “questions remain” on “how the additional mental health needs will be addressed, and how the Covid-19 recovery plan addresses the causes of mental health inequality”.

Billy Watson, chief executive of SAMH said there has to be a “radical new plan” for struggling mental health services.

He said: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on people with mental health problems. Over half of the people we spoke to last year told us that their mental health had worsened recently; yet many could not rely on getting the support they needed.

"As we move out of restrictions, better support and care must be a priority for the new Scottish Government, including a return to face-to-face support as soon as it’s safe to do so.”