Psychiatric patients in the Western Isles are being transferred miles from their homes because of a lack of beds in the Highlands and islands, a mental health watchdog has warned.
Inspectors from the Mental Welfare Commission (MWC) for Scotland raised their concerns following a visit to the adult psychiatric unit (APU) at Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway.
Their findings have sparked anger among north politicians, who claim Scottish Government cuts to nursing training places were having an impact on patients.
MWC executive director Alison Thomson, in her report, said: “We heard that on occasions it can be difficult to transfer patients quickly to a mainland ward when NHS Highland cannot accept a patient for transfer.
“If NHS Highland does not have a vacant bed, staff have to widen their search across Scotland.
“This is difficult not only for the patient but for relatives who have been involved in their care and wished to remain involved in their care.”
The APU is a five-bed ward providing care for men and women who require acute psychiatric admission and treatment.
Highland and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said she was aware of problems on the Western Isles where patients with psychiatric conditions were being transferred to mainland hospitals, in some cases hundreds of miles away in the Central Belt.
She said this was due to lack of bed space and back-up services on the island and lack of availability in centres such New Craigs Hospital in Inverness.
She said: “This causes terrible pain for the families and for the patient, cut off from their loved ones and in an unfamiliar environment. Families also have to make long journeys just to keep in contact which is expensive and emotionally draining.
“I’ve been pressing the Western Isles health authority to bring back services to the island, especially after the closure of the Clisham ward which cared for dementia patients. It’s a problem which will not go away.”
An NHS Western Isles spokeswoman said they always worked in partnership with other mainland boards to ensure care for patients is provided in the place that best meets their needs.
She added: “Transfers to specialist centres are part of the patient pathway. The availability of appropriate clinical care placements on the mainland does vary and NHS Western Isles continues to work with partners to improve the experience of patients.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We want everyone to be able to access mental health services to get the help that they need, when they need it.
“Those requiring treatment for complex conditions which are not provided in the Western Isles have to be transferred to relevant facilities in order to receive the most appropriate care.
“We expect NHS Western Isles and their partners, including the health and social care partnership and NHS Highland which also provides specialist services, to ensure that there is appropriate provision of mental health services for residents on the island.
“This year we are investing £1.1 billion to support mental health services and providing funding for an extra 800 mental health workers, rising to £35 million per year by 2021-22.
“NHS Western Isles will benefit from an additional six mental health workers as a result of this funding.”