ONLINE assessments for depression, autism and ADHD could help young Scots in rural areas access help more quickly, it is claimed.

Long waiting times and limited services mean patients in remote communities can struggle to get the support the need.

Now Aberdeen University is to trial an online system in the Highlands and Finland in a bid to overcome these barriers.

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The move will see parents, teachers and children aged 11 and over take “secure, structured” computer-based psychiatric interviews aimed at providing an accurate diagnosis for complex issues.

The information gathered will be assessed by a psychiatrist before recommendations about treatments and services are given.

It is hoped that the method will cut waiting times and stress and lead to “measurable improvements” in child and adolescent mental health within six months.

So far, tests of the European-funded system – the result of a collaboration with partners in Finland, Sweden and Norway – have resulted in diagnosis success rates of 80-90 per cent.

Professor Philip Wilson, head of the Aberdeen University’s Centre for Rural Health, said: “This is an important trial to test a new service which could ultimately lead to a slicker, more thorough and effective system for psychiatric referral for children and young people.

“The current system is inefficient at best and often results in families being sent from pillar to post due to inaccurate or non-comprehensive diagnosis.

“It’s bad for the children and young people, for the parents and teachers, and the GP who has to manage a situation which is often drawn out and frustrating for all involved.

“It is our hope that the new system will contribute to improved and more equal access to timely outpatient psychiatry services, specialist evaluation and treatment according to best practice, improved capacity in primary care and more rational use of specialist services.” Currently young people presenting with issues like depression are often referred by GPs to a range of services including child psychologists, social services or general paediatric clinics.

The Aberdeen team says the referral process can lead to unnecessary delays in support and complicate the route to appropriate help.

Half of patients on the trial, which will take place in the NHS Highland region, will use the online system, with half seen through standard methods.

Parents will be given a set of codes to log in, with input from teachers for children over the age of five and involvement for youngsters aged 11 and over. Phobias, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and conduct disorders will also be considered.