The number of psychiatrists working in Scotland’s NHS has increased by just four in the past five years amid warnings of an “enormous gulf” developing in the treatment of physical and mental health.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists said the number of consultant psychiatrists in Scotland has risen by less than 1 per cent since 2012, compared with a more than 20 per cent rise in consultants who treat physical illnesses. Details emerged as former Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned of a “full-blown mental health emergency” in Scotland.
Official figures show there are 544 consultant psychiatrists currently working in the NHS in Scotland, up from 540 five years ago.
The College said more psychiatrists are needed to help deliver on Scottish Government pledges to improve treatment for those with mental health problems. Dr John Crichton, chair of the College in Scotland, said: “People with a severe mental illness should be able to see a specialist consultant just as someone would for a severe physical illness, but reality is falling short of our expectations.
“We need the brightest and the best to choose psychiatry and then remain in Scotland if we are to provide people who have mental illnesses with the help they need.
“For the Scottish Government to realise the vision in its mental health strategy, we need to get recruitment into psychiatry right.”
Announcing its programme for government last week, the Scottish Government pledged to make mental health treatment a priority by investing more and bringing forward a national strategy. Concerns over the number of psychiatrists were raised as Gordon Brown described a “crisis” in mental health care.
The former Prime Minister is an honorary patron of the Cottage Family Centre in Kirkcaldy, Fife, a charity which has launched a £100,000 fundraising campaign to hire its own mental health staff.
NHS Fife is one of five health boards in the country which did not meet the Scottish Government’s 18-week waiting time standard for child and adolescent mental health treatment.
Mr Brown said: “The crisis in Fife mirrors what is happening across the entire country.
“There is now a full-blown mental health emergency.”
Despite the concerns over psychiatrists, Scotland has more per head of the population than elsewhere in the UK. For every 100,000 Scots, there are ten consultant psychiatrists, compared with eight in England and Northern Ireland and six in Wales.
But the college is warning that the number of medical students specialising in psychiatry “has all but flatlined” across the UK.
Annie Wells, Scottish Conservative spokeswoman for mental health, said: “These figures clearly show that the number of consultant psychiatrists is growing far slower than the rate of those trained to treat physical illnesses.
“The Scottish Conservatives have been saying for some time that we need parity between the approach to mental and physical health.
“This SNP Government has said that mental health is a priority, but our health boards have regularly missed targets for treatment of children and adults.
“These figures today will do nothing to convince the public that the SNP is taking this issue as seriously as it claims.”
Labour inequalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “The SNP’s rhetoric on mental health does not match the reality of its record.
“Labour has been pushing for a better approach to mental health services. It’s clear that there is a workforce crisis in our health service.”
Figures published last week showed two-thirds of young people seeking mental health services are waiting longer than the 18-week target in some parts of Scotland.
Maureen Watt, minister for mental health, said: “Mental health is a priority for the Scottish Government.
“Under this government, there has been an increase of 22.6 per cent in psychiatry roles in Scotland, and we now have the most psychiatrists per head of population of the four nations.”