The Scottish government's action on mental health is leading the way

Scotland leads the way

Rob Murray with Changing Faces CEO James Partridge

Rob Murray with Changing Faces CEO James Partridge

The Scottish Government has set out an ambition for Scotland to be a wealthier, fairer and healthier nation. This is something to which all governments should be aspiring – but we need to see action.

On Tuesday, a press release was issued by the Minister responsible for mental health, Jamie Hepburn MSP, praising the fact that the number of children and young people seen within the 18 week standard increased from 73% to 76% in the second half of last year. Whilst this increase is welcome it would be wrong not to point out that the current target is 90%.

I find it unacceptable that only half of this number started their treatment within eight weeks. We see a lot of headlines around A&E waiting times and operation waiting times, I would like to see there being a national focus on mental health waiting times and pressure for their reduction. I believe if the public truly knew the length of time children and young people had to wait for psychological support there would be an outcry.

It would be rude of me not to note that the Minister goes on in the press release to say that, ‘more work is needed to bring waiting times down further’.

A simple search of the Scottish Government website for CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service) or indeed ‘mental health’ will direct you to the Mental Health Strategy and the £150million investment in mental health services announced by the First Minister. This is all great in the run up to an election but what Scotland’s children and young people need is a Mental Health Strategy which is both in date (the current one ran out at the end of 2015) and has bold ambitions about how a reduction in CAMHS times can be achieved.

In our own little world within Changing Faces, we have seen excellent examples of partnership working with some health boards to improve access to psychosocial support for children, young people and families who have a disfigurement. There is however much more needing to be done by many health boards to ensure that charities are seen as equal partners in health delivery not a cheaper alternative that would be nice to have. I would hope that the health and social care integration project would help this although going by the recent Audit Scotland report, there is a long way to go.

Through our ‘Look at Me’ report we found that health professionals are not aware or are adequately trained to conduct the necessary psychosocial assessment: they lack confidence and understanding of the various tools to undertake this. This is why we need to call on the Scottish Government to ensure health professionals are trained to carry out necessary assessments so young people are not falling through the gaps.

A great example of where this was achieved was through the work carried out by COBIS (Care of Burns in Scotland) who delivered a Scotland-wide psychosocial training programme for all staff involved in burns services. This piece of ground breaking work came about through the initial use of the Changing Faces Burns Training Pack which was developed by NHS staff in Scotland.

Ensuring an adequate health system is not the only answer. Education is an important aspect to children and young people living a happy and prosperous life. Recent research by the Equaity and Human Rights Commission and Respect Me on prejudice-based bullying in Scottish schools found that, ‘One in four of the pupils surveyed said that they were aware of peers in their school experiencing prejudice-based bullying …  Just over half of pupils who had themselves experienced bullying said they had reported it to their school … given the impact on young peoples’ education and health, we shouldn’t be leaving this to chance.’ This is why educational outreach programmes such as ours and other charities’ are vitally important to ensuring a fairer nation.

With there being a real opportunity for change under the health and social care integration programme and indeed the goal of being a healthier nation, I would urge the Scottish Government not to wait until after the elections this May but put forward now an ambitious Mental Health Strategy for the next five years. We could see real partnership working between our health services, educational institutions and indeed the charity sector. By working in partnership we can help reduce the pain young people face across our country and the time they have to wait for support.

Rob Murray is Changing Faces’ Scotland Manager

Viewpoint represents the author’s views, and not necessarily the views of Changing Faces.

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