Access to mental health must be improved

All too often, people struggling with mental ill health face a real challenge in accessing the treatment they need. Services in Scotland – and right across the UK – are stretched, with patients often forced to travel substantial distances for support.

The situation for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Scotland illustrates this clearly. At present, there are no specialist beds north of Dundee.

The long journeys that patients face to access care were back in the news this week due to a new report from The Commission on Acute Adult Psychiatric Care, which was set up by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in response to concerns about the provision of services for people with severe mental illness. This report was about England but there are lessons for the rest of the UK as well.

With official figures suggesting that each month around 500 mental ill patients in have to travel over 50km away from their home to a hospital bed. The report concluded that these long distances “are mainly due to difficulties in finding acute inpatient beds or suitable alternative services in their home area, and are a symptom of far more widespread problems in the functioning of the whole mental health system.”

One of the Commission's key recommendations was that sending acutely ill patients long distances for non-specialist mental health treatment is phased out by October 2017. This is something that we need to look at in Scotland too. The problems here are no less serious.

Freedom of Information requests by the Scottish Liberal Democrats revealed 1,500 adults were sent outside their health board area in 2014-15 to receive mental health treatment as an outpatient or day patient. There was also an increase in the number of adults receiving inpatient treatment in other health boards in comparison to the previous year.

The figures also show over 150 children under the age of 18 were sent outside their health boards to receive treatment last year.

There are no easy solutions here. Making sure that people can get treatment close to home will require a step change in the way we fund and support mental health services in Scotland. But it is vital that we close the gaps in the system.

Liberal Democrats have argued consistently that it is time that the Scottish Government started taking mental health seriously. That is an argument we will take into the coming Holyrood election.

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