By Bill Heaney
The “alarming” number of people who have been reported missing from NHS grounds can be revealed today by the Scottish Conservatives.
The numbers – contained in a written response from SNP justice secretary Keith Brown to his shadow Jamie Greene – show that since 2019-20 more than 5,500 investigations into missing adults and children have been conducted by police.
Since 2019-20, 226 investigations have been launched in relation to young people under the age of 18 reported as having gone missing from NHS grounds.
And when it comes to adults, Police Scotland have had to undertake 5,297 missing person investigations between 2019-20 and 2022-23 so far.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lothian accounted for over 2,600 of the adults who were reported missing, while the latter saw 56 youngsters reported missing from their grounds.
The total number could potentially be higher as the response from Keith Brown only includes those disappearances that are reported to the police.
Jamie Greene says the figures “give serious cause for concern” and point to a culture of “burnout” among frontline staff in the NHS on the SNP’s watch.
He added and that these investigations will only push “already overstretched” police officers even further beyond their limit.
Shadow justice secretary Jamie Greene MSP said: “These figures are deeply alarming. Relatives expect their loved ones to be safe while they are staying, or being treated, in an NHS facility.
“It gives serious cause for concern that over 200 investigations have had to be launched in just the last few years to determine the whereabouts of young people who went missing from NHS grounds.
“These young people will have felt extremely vulnerable and could have been at risk of serious harm after leaving the care of our dedicated NHS staff.
“The fact that thousands of investigations have taken place all points to frontline staff burnout on the SNP’s watch. Due to shortages of staff across Scotland’s NHS and the shattering toll of the pandemic, they have been pushed beyond breaking point. Exhaustion and under-staffing leads to incidents like this.
“But, of course, there’s a knock-on effect for our already-overstretched police too, who are having to investigate these disappearances. Officer numbers are at their lowest level since 2008 – and they too are being asked to do too much.
“Keith Brown cannot dismiss these figures out of hand. They should be an urgent wake-up call for him to ensure that he gives our police the resources they need, and his colleague Humza Yousaf does the same for the NHS.
“Relatives must be given a guarantee by ministers that there is not a risk of their loved ones suddenly going missing while under the supervision of our health service.”
Picture: Gartnavel Royal Hospital, which takes patients from West Dunbartonshire and South Argyll.