THE number of adults waiting more than a year to access mental health treatment has doubled since Scotland acquired a dedicated mental health minister, it has emerged.

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie accused Nicola Sturgeon of failing to understand the scale of the problem as he raised the statistic with her at First Minister’s Questions.

When Ms Sturgeon appointed Maureen Watt to the newly created position in May 2016, she said it demonstrated how seriously the government took mental health support.

However Mr Rennie said mental health services were getting worse, not better.

He cited a Freedom of Information request which found almost 1000 adults waited more than a year for mental health treatment in 2017/18, compared to fewer than 500 in 2015/16.

He said: “I do not think that the First Minister understands.

“The number of people who are waiting over a year has doubled since the day that she appointed her dedicated Minister for Mental Health.

“Since Christmas, I have challenged the First Minister about specialist perinatal mental health services - in half of Scotland, there are none - the waiting times for children, which are longer, and her suicide prevention plan. The wait for that plan goes on and on.

“The First Minister tells us that the service that people receive is getting better, but the evidence says that she is just plain wrong. People with poor mental health deserve an answer. Why are mental health services getting worse in this country?”

Ms Sturgeon said more funding and more staff recruitment was taking place, but admitted “adult waits are not yet where we want them to be”.

She said: “We want to bring waiting times down. In particular, we want to bring down the longest waiting times. The average adult wait is seven weeks.

“In child and adolescent mental health services, the average wait is 10 weeks, and there is an average wait of between five and 12 weeks, which is within the 18-week target, in 11 out of 14 health boards. We continue to work hard to improve the situation further.”

Ms Sturgeon said perinatal mental health services were also being improved and the final suicide prevention strategy would be published before the summer recess.

Also highlighting mental health awareness week, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard asked Ms Sturgeon asked about rejected referrals for child mental health services.

He said 5410 referrals had been rejected since ministers announced an audit of the problem in March 2017, and vulnerable children had been let down.

The First Minister said the audit would be published by June 30, and the Scottish Association for Mental Health was currently conducting focus groups and interviews with families.

Mr Leonard said: “Children as young as five are being referred by one part of Scotland’s health service to another, and the referrals are then being rejected.

“The First Minister once said that she had ‘a sacred responsibility - to make sure every young person ... gets the same chance ... to succeed’.

“Where on earth is that ‘sacred responsibility’ to those children?”

Ms Sturgeon said the budget for mental health services had topped £1bn last year.

She later praised SNP MSPs Gillian Martin and Claire Haughey for campaigning to stop internet search engines promoting self-harm websites which could contribute to suicides.

She said: “Search engine providers and social media should always take responsibility for preventing access to any form of dangerous content, which obviously includes material that advocates suicide methods. It will certainly be an issue that the suicide prevention action plan looks at.”