Psychiatric Hospitals Have 'Lost' 161 Patients

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael MacLeod

LAX security at Scotland's psychiatric hospitals has allowed scores of patients to walk out unsupervised despite fears they could be a danger to themselves and others.

NHS records show at least 161 of the nation's 3,030 psychiatric in-patients have absconded - including some being treated in secure units - over the past year.

The record is in marked contrast to England, where only 94 of almost 5,000 patients managed to leave.

The worrying statistics, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, come a month after schizophrenic Darren Harkin was convicted of raping a schoolgirl after he absconded from Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire.

There are now calls for a tightening of security at mental health hospitals north of the Border after judge Nicholas Cooke demanded the Home Office investigate the horrific attack.

In Scotland, the most seriously ill and those deemed the highest risk to the public are held at the secure State Hospital at Carstairs, Lanarkshire, where there were no escapes last year.

But politicians said they were still concerned that people with serious mental illnesses were still able to walk out of units where they were being treated.

The most serious problem was in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, where 64 out of 348 patients - almost one in five - went absent without permission over the past year.

The Ayrshire board said it had spent more than ?20,000 on security at psychiatric care units in 2007, but none of Scotland's other health boards was able to give its security costs.

In Lothian, where security measures are high, none of the 701 patients managed to abscond.

The Scottish Executive claimed the huge difference between the figures for Scotland and England was down to variations in how each country defined mental illness. …