Scots NHS patients face ‘unacceptable’ mental health care

Lengthy waits of months for treatment are a major issue, a mental health survey has found. Picture: John Devlin
Lengthy waits of months for treatment are a major issue, a mental health survey has found. Picture: John Devlin
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Almost half of Scots receiving mental health treatment on the NHS have endured an “unacceptable quality” of care, new research indicates.

Lengthy waits of months for suicidal Scots and patients being advised to “pay privately” for treatment are among the cases recorded in a survey by the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH).

There are also concerns that GPs are too quick to prescribe medication when other treatments such as therapy should be tried first.

The charity is now calling for waiting times to be brought in line with the 12-week target for physical illness ahead of an appearance today before MSPs on Holyrood’s health committee.

Health secretary Shona Robison has committed to introducing an “Ask Once, Get Help Fast” approach to mental health, but today’s survey warns: “There is much to be done to make this approach a reality.”

Hundreds of Scots who used NHS mental health services in the past year were surveyed by SAMH and the findings point to “worrying” shortcomings in key areas.

Just 60 per cent said they were confident they would receive a high quality of care, according to the findings which have been submitted to the health committee. Almost half had received “care of an unacceptable quality”, while 60 per cent said they were not offered the most appropriate care at the right time.

“Medication is not always prescribed in accordance with guidance,” the SAMH submission states

“Official guidance suggests people with mild to moderate depression should initially be offered therapy, self-help physical activity.”

The survey also points to a number of “worrying” incidents, including one case where a patient who attempted suicide was forced to wait four months for an appointment.

Another respondent claimed: “There is no facility to receive out-of-hours care unless you pay privately. I was told in numerous occasions that I would have to do this.”

The latest statistics show only ten Scottish health boards met the 18-week child and mental health services (CAMHS) target and only three met the target for psychological therapies.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “It’s extremely disappointing to hear that almost half of those treated did not feel that they received an acceptable standard of care.

“Mental health professionals are under immense pressure and they are warning that the situation will only worsen unless the SNP live up to their warm words and deliver a step change for mental health.

“That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling on the SNP government to double spending on children and young people’s mental health and secure a mental health professional in every police station, A&E and GP practice to deliver treatments.”

The survey by SAMH spoke to 319 Scots who have used NHS services in the past year.

It also found that more than three-quarters (76 per cent) said staff were courteous and sensitive. More than half felt they were valued as an individual. Almost 80 per cent had never been asked what NHS mental health services they would like in their area, while the same number said they did not know about systems in place to deal with unacceptable care.

SAMH provides more than 60 services across Scotland offering mental health and social care support.