Scottish MPs claim young children suffering from mental health problems are being “neglected” because of a drop in health visitor numbers.

Experts informed MSPs that fewer young children were being referred to specialists as a result of a reduction in health visitors - meaning many under-fives with mental health issues were slipping through the net.

We heard evidence that substantial damage has been done by cutting numbers of health visitors

A report by the health and sport committee said: “The importance of identifying mental health problems in the under-fives was an important theme in this inquiry.

“Disturbingly, the committee uncovered evidence that this group is neglected.”

The committee was told that evidence from a US study shows neglect of such problems early in a child’s life can lead to problems later, with many likely to end up in mental hospitals or in prison.

Committee convener Christine Grahame said: “We heard evidence that substantial damage has been done by cutting numbers of health visitors, the very people who would have noted signs that merit intervention in the under-fives.

“The suggestion that this role can be fulfilled by social workers instead could be counter-productive in terms of public perception.”

Despite the “need for urgent action” to help this vulnerable group, the committee said financial constraints were “inevitable” and would limit available services.