NICOLA Sturgeon has said waiting times for mental health help for children are “too long” in Scotland. 

The admission from the SNP leader came during First Minster’s Questions as she was challenged over staggering levels of rejections for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). 

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In last month's emergency budget review, the Scottish Government scaled back a planned £290m spend on mental health, cutting funding by £38m.

Anas Sarwar told Ms Sturgeon about Charlie, a P7 who posted a video on TikTok asking “if anyone felt like they wanted to die.”

Despite first being referred to CAMHS in January 2020, he was still waiting for treatment. 

However, because he had a video consultation with a doctor in April 2020, he does not appear on waiting lists. 

The Herald:

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, the Labour leader accused the SNP of gaming the system.

He said: “He has had no diagnosis, and without treatment, Charlie has become withdrawn and doesn’t like to spend time with other children.

“His mother found a video he had posted to TikTok where he asked if anyone felt like they wanted to die because they were so different.”

Mr Sarwar continued: “Charlie’s mum told the CAMHS service, but they said it would make no difference to his waiting time. They told her it could be another two years before Charlie receives the support he needs.

“This is not good enough.”

He said that 8,873 children had had their referrals to CAMHS for help rejected in the last year, and that there were 1,248 children and young people who had been waiting more than a year for treatment.

He asked Ms Sturgeon how she had “let it get so bad.”

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Ms Sturgeon said that “obviously Charlie’s experience is not acceptable”, adding that she was willing to look at his case.

“It is the case that there are waits for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services that are too long,” she said.

“But it is also the case that there is significant action being taken that is reducing already these long waits.”

She told MSPs: “The overall CAMHS waiting list has decreased in the latest quarter by 1,398 children since the previous quarter.

“Children waiting over 18 weeks have decreased by 658 since the previous quarter and children waiting over 52 weeks have decreased by 281.

“Actually, that marks the first time there has been a decrease in all three waiting lists since September 2016.”

She continued: “Nobody is denying there is a significant issue here, but we are now seeing decreases in the numbers of children waiting over 18 weeks, the numbers waiting over 52 weeks as well and the overall waiting list is also decreasing.

“The significant investment, the increase in the workforce is now having an impact where we need to see it and we need to continue that.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “One in every two referrals to CAMHS is actually seen within 10 weeks, and of course, health boards have a duty to prioritise those who need to be seen most quickly.”

Mr Sarwar said the First Minister was “just not listening”. 

“If you get a first appointment, that is a telephone call, but your diagnosis doesn't happen, and your treatment doesn't start, but you fall off the list, that's not a measure of success, that's a measure of failure, and demonstrates that you're gaming the system,” he said. 

The Labour leader said the problems pre-dated Covid, and he pointed out that the government has never met its CAMHS waiting time targets. 

“According to Public Health Scotland, a quarter of all deaths of five to 24 year olds in our country are from suicide. A quarter. In the words of Charlie's mum, 'our children are being failed, and no one is doing anything about it'.”

READ MORE: Revealed: More than 800 suicides in Scots aged 10 to 24

He called on Ms Sturgeon to reverse cuts to mental health and primary care, and guarantee funding for schools based counselling.

He also urged her to increase the proportion of the NHS budget being spent on mental health to 11%, the same level as in England and Wales. 

Mr Sawar also called for a “new referral and triage system for mental health so that no one is rejected.”

The First Minister said there had been progress. 

“I'll say again, because it is important, that experiences like Charlie's are not acceptable. And I don't know all of the circumstances. So I'm willing to look into that. 

“And I'm not standing here and saying Charlie will be the only young person, far from it, in the country that has that kind of experience. 

"But nor is it right to say that the progress I have narrated today is somehow unimportant, because that is the progress that requires to be made to ensure that there are far fewer experiences like Charlie's.”

Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton told the SNP leader: “What we have just heard from Anas Sarwar is devastating.

“Charlie is by no means alone, not by a long shot and the situation is desperate.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said that “young people are battling the long shadow of lockdown, anxiety and depression without support.”

He told Ms Sturgeon: “You only get one childhood, and waiting month, after month after month for help can shatter those formative years.”

The First Minister responded by noting that spending on mental health had doubled since the SNP came to power, with the number of people working in CAMHS up by 110%.

She stated: “There are significant challenges in waiting times for CAMHS, we take that extremely seriously.

“But it is right to point to progress. There is real progress being made because of the actions, the focus and the determination of this Government.”