Number detained under mental health act in Scotland at record levels

Scientists have discovered new evidence strengthening the link between a previously misunderstood gene and major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Picture: TSPL
Scientists have discovered new evidence strengthening the link between a previously misunderstood gene and major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Picture: TSPL
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Human rights concerns have been raised after new figures revealed that the number of people in Scotland being compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act has risen to its highest level since the legislation was introduced in 2003.

The biggest rise (10 per cent) was in emergency detention certificates, used in crisis situations to detain a person who needs urgent care or treatment for mental ill health.

The certificates, which allow someone to be kept in hospital for up to 72 hours, can be issued by any doctor but the Act stipulates there should also be consent from a specialist mental health officer where possible.

Dr Gary Morrison, executive director (medical) at the Mental Welfare Commission, said its annual monitoring report raised concerns about “significant variations” in services across the country.

The number of new episodes of compulsory treatment in Scotland rose last year to 5,008, up 3 per cent.

However, the legislation states there should be consent from a specialist social worker, known as a mental health officer, wherever practicable, to explain the patient’s rights to them, including the right to have an independent advocate or to appeal.

Despite the 10 per cent rise in emergency certificates, only 56 per cent had the consent of a mental health officer.

Dr Morrison said: “If a doctor consults with the medical health officer and the officer does not agree, the doctor can’t proceed.

“However, sometimes a situation can be too urgent for a medical health officer to respond in an appropriate timescale and the admission goes ahead.

“The Commission’s role is to protect and promote the human rights of people with mental health problems, so we take the issue seriously. There are significant variations across the country, and we expect those areas with low levels of mental health officer involvement to develop clear action plans for improvement.”

Maureen Watt, minister for mental health, said: “The rise in compulsory treatments may be due to increased diligence from professionals in using the legislation appropriately.

“However, we will continue to work with the Mental Welfare Commission and stakeholders both to ensure these orders are used correctly, and to promote patients’ rights more generally.

“Indeed, patient rights will be a key part of our new Mental Health Strategy, which will be published at the end of the year and backed with £150 million of funding over five years.”