This week the Chancellor of the Exchequer stood in the House of Commons and set out his spending plans for the next 5 years.
The headlines were full of his decision to scrap tax credit cuts that would have hit 250,000 families in Scotland. I am proud that Lib Dems in the House of Lords helped force George Osborne to change his mind and scrap his damaging plans.
Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb also deserves real praise for helping secure £600 million to improve mental health services in England. At First Minister’s Questions this week, I urged Nicola Sturgeon to ensure that the extra money that Scotland will receive as a result of this decision is ring-fenced for mental health services in Scotland. The need for investment is just as pressing north of the border.
Figures released this week showed that vulnerable young people waiting for mental health treatment in different parts of the country face extended waits to access services.
In Grampian, just half of young people waiting treatment were seen within the 18 week waiting time target. In Tayside, the figure was just 3 in 10. Across Scotland, some 30% of vulnerable young people who had been referred to mental health services were seen inside 18 weeks.
SNP Ministers have known for some time that the situation across Scotland was grave. Jim Hume MSP pressed the Scottish Government on this issue earlier in the year and we were told that there was a detailed recovery plan to cut waiting times.
Since the launch of that recovery plan, waiting times have actually got worse.
This is hugely serious. We would not expect someone with a broken leg to wait 18 weeks to see a doctor. Mental ill health is every bit as serious as physical ill health and we cannot leave vulnerable people to fend for themselves because SNP Ministers won’t put their money where their mouth is.
Next month, the Finance Secretary has the opportunity to confirm that he will spend the extra money he will receive as a result of the Autumn Statement on improving mental health services. Thus funding will not be a silver bullet, but it is an important start. If the SNP want to be taken seriously on mental health – and more importantly, help the young people who have been forced to wait months and months for treatment - it is an opportunity that he cannot afford to miss.