Tackling postcode lottery of mental health access in Scotland is too slow, auditors warn

Press release, Scotland news
13 September 2023

Progress in tackling the ‘postcode lottery’ of access to mental health services has been too slow, auditors have warned.

A report published by Audit Scotland found people from ethnic minorities, rural areas and those living in poverty face more barriers when seeking mental health support.

According to the report, the issue is a “long-standing problem and progress in tackling it has been slow”.

Auditor General Stephen Boyle urged other local services, such as housing, welfare and employability support to work closer with mental health teams in an effort to prevent some of the causes.

The report also warns of a ‘fragmented’ system where accountability is ‘complex’, with several bodies, including ministers, councils and health boards, all involved in the funding, planning or provision of the mental health services, resulting in delays.

‘Essential’ commitments pledging to increase the mental health funding by 25% and giving GP practices access to primary care mental health and wellbeing services are welcomed – although the report said the commitments are ‘not currently on track’ to be met.

Ministers have been urged to publish an urgent costed delivery plan for the funding and workforce needed to establish and accommodate the primary care mental health services by 2026, as part of the report’s recommendations.

It also condemned the Scottish Government’s ‘lack of information’ on the impact the services are having on improving people’s health.

Dr Jane Morris, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, hit out at the “postcode lottery’ and backed calls for a costed plan. She said:

“As clinicians working on the frontline, we have been warning for years about the glaring problems of access and funding for mental health services.

“There is a postcode lottery across Scotland, so it comes as no surprise that ethnic minorities and those living in rural or deprived areas are facing barriers to accessing services.

“While we welcome the focused attention on CAMHS and psychological therapy waiting time targets, the Scottish Government has failed to provide reasonable consideration for the needs of many adults with severe mental illness.

“What we face is a mental health emergency with demand only set to soar due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. We also need the workforce in place to keep up with that projected increase in more patients seeking treatment.

“We recently wrote to Humza Yousaf asking him to honour the commitment made more than two years ago by his government, to ensure mental health services received the funding they deserve. However, despite promises we’ve not seen this come to fruition.

“We’d agree that the Scottish Government must now look at a costed delivery plan for mental health care that people can expect in their communities. These are services that people with serious mental health conditions so desperately need and deserve.”

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