TWO THIRDS of young people seeking mental health services are being forced into a "scandalous" wait longer than the 18-week target in parts of Scotland.

Opposition politicians and children's campaigners hit out after it was revealed that across Scotland almost one in five patients failed to start their treatment with Child and Adolescent Mental health Services (CAMHS) within 18 weeks.

A total of 4,092 youngsters began getting treatment for mental health problems in the period April to June 2017, official figures from NHS Scotland showed.

While 80.7 per cent of them were seen within 18 weeks – a drop from 83.6 per cent in the previous quarter – in the NHS Grampian area only 34.5% of youngsters started treatment within the Scottish Government's target time.

Eight NHS boards met the 18-week standard but NHS Grampian and five other areas - NHS Fife, Highland, Lanarkshire, Lothian and Tayside - did not, leading to complaints that youngsters are facing a postcode lottery for treatment.

At the end of June 2017 there were 6,964 children and young people waiting to start treatment with CAMHS - with 29 patients waiting more than a year to be seen.

Labour branded the situation "completely unacceptable" and called on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to put urgent plans in place to improve care.

Monica Lennon, Labour's inequalities spokeswoman, said: "Again and again Labour has raised the issue with Nicola Sturgeon, but instead we have seen an underwhelming mental health strategy, published after months of delay, and without a key commitment to improving access to counsellors in schools.

"The longer waiting times go unmet, the more it looks like the SNP government is simply paying lip service to mental health and wellbeing, rather than giving it parity of esteem with physical health.

"The SNP Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt is failing to deliver for vulnerable children and young people and I urge Nicola Sturgeon to put urgent plans in place to turn this around."

Liberal Democrats also demanded a "step change" in mental health care, with health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton branding the figures "anything but encouraging".

He said: "Performance has plummeted again, the average waiting time has increased and dozens of children are left without the treatment they need for more than a year. For a child, waiting well over a year for help must feel like a lifetime.

"Staff are working incredibly hard but they are being let down too. This desperate situation is nothing short of scandalous."

A spokesman for the Scottish Children's Services Coalition said: "Research indicates that 10 per cent of children and young people (aged five to 16) has a clinically diagnosable mental health problem (around three in every classroom), and 20 per cent of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year.

"Yet, despite the enormity of this challenge, less than 0.5 per cent of the NHS budget is spent on specialist CAMHS.

"We need to radically transform mental health services, with a focus on preventing such problems arising in the first place and intervening early to ensure that children and young people are able to realise their full potential. This includes investing in greater community support and reducing the need for referral to specialist CAMHS."