FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon apologises over mental health referrals

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
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Almost 25,000 referrals for mental health treatment for young people have been rejected since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister in 2014, Labour has said.

Leader Richard Leonard called on Ms Sturgeon to apologise for the rejected referrals during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.

In June, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman accepted the system for referring children and young people for specialist mental health treatment was “completely unacceptable” following a review and set up a £5 million taskforce to improve child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

A new report from Audit Scotland has concluded that mental health services for children and young people are “complex and fragmented” and under “significant pressure” due to a big increase in demand.

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Mr Leonard said: “Today’s report calls for a step change and Labour will work with the government to deliver the changes that we need.

“That’s why we pressed for counsellors in schools and for a review of these rejected cases, but the reality is that the government has been too slow to act because it did not take this issue seriously enough.

“With thousands of Scotland’s children rejected for treatment during her time in office, surely the First Minister must show an ounce of regret that her government did not act sooner.

“The new minister for mental health has today admitted that too many children and adolescents are being let down.

“So, will the First Minster admit that she has been too slow to act, that she has let these children and young people down for over a decade, and will she today offer them an apology?”

Ms Sturgeon responded: “I regret and apologise to any patient whether they are an adult of a child who is not seen by the NHS, whether for mental health problems or physical health problems, as quickly as they should be, and I say that unreservedly.

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“But I don’t accept Richard Leonard’s characterisation.

“The Audit Scotland report recognises this: we have put additional resources into mental health, we’ve seen additional people employed to work in mental health - since 2007 the CAMHS workforce has increased, I think, by 69% - so we have recognised the rising demand on mental health services and we’ve acted on that.

“However, demand has risen faster than I think anybody necessarily anticipated, which I think is a good thing, so we recognise we must do even more, not just to build the capacity of specialist services but also to build the capacity of community services.

“On rejected referrals, it is exactly because we were concerned by rejected referrals that we set up the audit of rejected referrals.

“We are acting and we’ve set out further plans. If he is serious about working with the government to take forward these plans, then I welcome that and perhaps we can build some much-needed consensus on a very, very important issue.”