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'Alarming' number of people waiting to see a psychologist in the Highlands, say Caithness campaign group

By Gordon Calder

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THE number of people waiting to see a psychologist in the Highlands has been described as "alarming" by a Caithness campaign group.

Ron Gunn, the chairman of the Caithness Health Action Team, said the issue needs to be addressed after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Peter Todd from Thurso revealed a total of 2460 on the waiting list at the end of last month.

The figures, which exclude those from community mental health teams, show there were 1164 people waiting to see a psychologist in Inverness and Loch Ness with 319 in the Black Isle and mid Ross, 235 in Fort William and Lochaber, 221 in Nairn, Aviemore, Badenoch and Strathspey, 202 in Caithness, 189 in Sutherland and east Ross and 130 in Skye and West Ross.

Mr Gunn said: "These figures are alarming and are too high.The shortage of health professionals during the pandemic may have exacerbated the situation but it needs to be looked at. Face-to-face appointments are required in these circumstances."

He added: "For some time now there has been a lack of adequate mental health services in Caithness leading to high numbers of people waiting a very long time to access help. Caithness has also lost far too many people to suicide and the lack of help and long waiting time could well be a contributing factor."

Ron Gunn says the figures are 'alarming'
Ron Gunn says the figures are 'alarming'

Mr Todd said the statistics are "proof, psychological services within NHS Highland are woefully under resourced."

He said: "The management have stated over many years that they listen to communities and patients. Yet, there is no longer a psychologist travelling to Caithness to do face-to-face therapies. If a patient is brave enough to argue for face-to-face therapy they are then forced to travel over 200-mile round trip for mentally draining treatment."

Mr Todd added: "Managers have stated to the government in a briefing pack that patients are to be given a choice how they access therapy. So can the chief executive Pam Dudek please explain why there is no longer a psychologist travelling to Caithness?

"Perhaps she can explain at the same time why I keep getting sent other patients' medical documents, even in the knowledge that I have the Information Commissioner and elected representatives involved."

Mr Todd has contacted the Information Commissioner over the alleged data breaches.

Mr Todd said he received a copy of information relating to another patient as well as complaints made to NHS Highland about a rural GP practice.

He also says a health authority manager attempted " to sweep concerns under the carpet and breach complaints procedure."

Thurso and northwest Caithness Highland councillor Matthew Reiss contacted Mrs Dudek to express his concern and to try and establish why this is happening.

A spokesman for NHS Highland said: "Psychology services in Highland have had longer waiting times than we would like for some time now. Prior to COVID-19 we recognised investment was needed in the service, particularly in terms of capacity.

"We started to change the way services were delivered at the beginning of the pandemic and this adaptation has regrettably meant additional delays in waiting times.

"The Scottish Government’s Recovery and Renewal fund has allocated considerable funding to improve mental health services, and improvement work is well underway.

"We are aware of the pressures and distress long waiting times are causing people and their families, and we apologise for this. We are working hard to improve access as quickly as possible."

He added: "We have mental health service provision in and for Caithness covering all ages as well as drug and alcohol recovery services.

"For adults and older adults in the community these include community psychiatric nurses, social workers, allied health professionals, medical colleagues and psychologists. We have a blend of in person, near me and online groups based on individual need.

"We also work closely with community groups and the Caithness Mental Health Group has drop-ins in Wick and Thurso for those requiring support and Listening Ear is also available. There are other Highland wide groups, for example HUG, which can also offer support.

"Caithness Cares is looking at all agencies, including third sector and the public sector to see what can be done to help improve the mental health and wellbeing provision within the district."

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