Concern at Plans to Downsize Carstairs

The number of beds at Carstairs hospital is to be cut by a third as dozens of patients are moved to lower-security institutions.New policy guidance on mental health facilities for offenders shows the high-security hospital is to be dramatically reduced in size as more medium and low-security beds are introduced. Women will also no longer be sent to Carstairs, after experts concluded that high-security psychiatric care for female criminals was not required in Scotland.

The plans follow new legislation which gives patients, including those detained for murder, the right to be moved to a lower-security facility when their condition improves.

While experts and mental health campaigners back the changes, opposition politicians have warned that public safety must remain top priority .

Previous attempts to build new facilities for mentally ill offenders have met fierce opposition. The decision to build a medium-security unit at Glasgow’s Stobhill Hospital was approved despite a four-year campaign against it by local groups.

Bill Aitken, Conservative MSP for Glasgow, said: “It is impossible not to feel sympathy for those who have mental health problems, but where they constitute a risk to the public, then the public interest must be paramount. ”

Stewart Stevenson, SNP deputy justice spokesman, welcomed the move, but added: “It is important to take communities along with us. ”

The number of beds at Carstairs will be reduced from 193 to 128. Provision of medium-security beds for male patients will more than double from 50 to 120-140, while low-security beds will increase from 139 to 160-70.

For female patients, 21 high-security beds at Carstairs will be replaced by eight medium-security beds and up to 24 low-security beds. In exceptional cases, high-security facilities in England will be used if required.

Andreana Adamson, chief executive at Carstairs and leader of the Forensic Network team, which developed the policy for the Executive, said: “With human rights and the Mental Health Act, you really need to be proportionate in your restrictions of people.”

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, which has raised concerns about patients becoming “entrapped” in Carstairs, welcomed the plans. Director Dr Donald Lyons said: “It is essential that the very small number of people with mental disorders who pose a serious risk to others are cared for in secure conditions at the right time, and only for as long as is necessary.”

An Executive spokeswoman said the reduction in bed numbers reflected the fact that there were fewer patients requiring conditions of high security, and that public safety “comes first”.

She added: “Patients are transferred to conditions of lower security only when there is clinical agreement that such a transfer is appropriate and safe.”