Health Board keeps mental health patient restraint numbers secret

Minister Clare Haughey, Health Board chair John Brown, Chief Executive Jane Grant and the new Gartnavel Royal Hospital, which serves West Dunbartonshire, Helensburgh and Argyll.

By Bill Heaney

Scotland’s Mental Welfare Commission is to examine the use of physical restraint in NHS facilities after data gathered by The Ferret investigative journalism bureau revealed a rise in recorded incidents by health boards.

Data released under a freedom of information request showed that six health boards across Scotland recorded a rise in the practice of physically restraining patients in mental health facilities between 2015 and 2018.

However, the Health Board that covers West Dunbartonshire and South Argyll, chaired by John Brown and headed by Jane Grant, the chief executive, once again decided to keep information secret and refused to disclose to the public what was happening in this area.

Those physical restraints that were reported were classified as “unplanned”, and in response to “adverse events”.

Restraint usually involves a team of up to three people putting weight on a patient to get control over the situation. It can lead to patients being hurt and reliving past traumatic experiences.

nhs logoNHS Forth Valley reported the largest surge of 133 per cent. NHS Tayside recorded a 95 per cent increase, and recorded restraints also rose by 75 per cent within NHS Grampian, 64 per cent in Dumfries and Galloway, 50 per cent in Highland and 20 per cent in Fife.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and NHS Western Isles failed to disclose figures. Other boards reported a decrease.

And once again West Dunbartonshire Council leader, Cllr Jonathan McColl, who is a member of the Health Board and has been criticised for his poor attendance at meetings, kept up his boycott of The Democrat.

Cllr McColl also declined to comment on the pigeon-related infection scandal at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which takes patients from West Dunbartonshire, Helensburgh and Lomond.

As did the council officials who are paid to comment on his behalf.

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland – the public body responsible for safeguarding the rights of people with a mental illness – is now planning to look at the data.

“We would wish to examine the data you have obtained and seek to understand the reasons for any increase,” said a spokesperson.

“The commission is clear that restraint should only be used as a last resort, and we have issued specific guidelines on this subject.”

The Ferret investigation also uncovered gaps in reporting and data gathering. Despite guidance from the commission that patterns of restraint should be recorded to inform policy, some health boards said that they do not keep total numbers.

 “While there is an expectation that episodes of restraint are recorded in clinical case records, there is currently no statutory duty,” said a Scottish Government spokesperson.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission called for more reliable data. “The commission is concerned about any increase in the use of restraint,” said chair Judith Robertson.

“An essential starting point for taking action is ensuring that reliable data is being gathered and analysed by all relevant authorities. The use of physical restraint in mental health facilities should only ever be a last resort.”

The Scottish Government stressed it was trying to make mental health services better. “Everyone should be able to feel safe whilst receiving treatment or working in our mental health services, and the use of physical restraint should only ever be a last resort,” said mental health minister, Clare Haughey.

“As we work to further improve our mental health services the experience of patients, their families and staff are key to reshaping treatment and support.”

The numbers were as follows:

Health Board 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
Forth Valley 189 240 441
Tayside 650 636 1272
Grampian 1213 1547 2129
Dumfries & Galloway 263 316 439
Fife 392 289 472
Highland 123 121 185
Greater Glasgow & Clyde Not disclosed
Borders Not recorded
Ayrshire & Arran 380 389 351
Lanarkshire 0 0 0
Lothian 1351 1373 1211
Western Isles Not disclosed
Orkney Not recorded, but also no inpatient facility
Shetland Not recorded, but also no inpatient facility


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