Back to top
News In Focus

Legal threat to health boards over mental patients

23 May 2006

The director of Scotland's Mental Welfare Commission has warned health boards that they could face legal action from patients at Carstairs who cannot be moved from the hospital when their mental condition improves because of a lack of available facilities.

Patients at the state hospital in Lanarkshire were recently given the right to be moved to a medium security unit when their condition improves. Dr Donald Lyons of the Mental Welfare Commission said about 20 patients are waiting to be moved, four of whom have been waiting for more than two years.

There is only one medium security unit in Scotland, at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, currently available. The earliest another unit is likely to be available is March next year when a clinic in Stobhill, Glasgow, is planned to open. Further units are planned for Tayside and Paisley.

New rules state that patients should not be held in "excessive security" for more than seven months. If the Mental Health Tribunal agrees that a patient is being held under such conditions, it can give the relevant health board three months to move them to a lower-security unit. This can be extended by a further three months and if no place is then found, the patient can appeal to the Court of Session after 28 days.

The new rules came in this month, under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act 2003. The Mental Welfare Commission has written to health boards and senior officials at the Scottish Executive to warn them about the situation and the possibility of legal action which could lead to large fines.

Dr Lyons said patients could be sent to English units as a short-term measure, but this would make it difficult for patients' families to visit them.

Moving patients on from the state hospital is also necessary to ensure there are enough places there for others who need high-security measures.