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Aberdeenshire MSP’s warning over autistic people dying at Scottish mental health institutions

Carstairs state hospital
Carstairs state hospital

The deaths of 14 patients with learning difficulties and autism at Scotland’s state hospital and other institutions show how people are “falling through the cracks” in secure care, an MSP has warned.

Aberdeenshire Tory Alexander Burnett obtained the official figures as part of his campaign to tackle the “national scandal” of keeping otherwise health individuals in secure care.

The Scottish Government said patient care is a priority and it’s not possible to draw conclusions about the cause of deaths from the data.

However, some parents have previously claimed their autistic children are being detained at facilities such as Carstairs state hospital indefinitely against their own wishes.

Concerns have been also been raised over the quality of care at the South Lanarkshire hospital with past accusations of mistreatment.

In 2020 the mother of Kyle Gibbon, then aged 32, from Kemnay, told the Sunday Post how her son had been locked up in Carstairs for a decade.

Kyle Gibbon with his mum.

She told how a verbal altercation between her son and a member of the public began a sequence of events that led to him being placed among dangerous patients.

It was reported that young adults with autism are being kept in wards at the hospital because there are no other suitable alternatives.

Last year it was warned families in the north-east were at “crisis point” over a lack of support.

New data from Public Health Scotland shows more than a dozen patients with learning difficulties died at the state hospital and other facilities since 2015.

Three of those deaths occurred between April and December last year.

One patient was aged under 45, while eight in total were under 65.

Meanwhile, six Scots with learning disabilities who died had been in facilities for longer than a full year.

‘National scandal’

MSP Mr Burnett said: “I have been working for several years to highlight how young people with autism, ADHD and learning disabilities can fall between the cracks.

“The use of secure care for otherwise healthy individuals is a national scandal. And these figures needed to be made public.

“Quite rightly, Public Health Scotland suggests support in the community should be the norm.

“But there are still too many young people in secure units who will be traumatised by the experience. Each of these tragic deaths represents a person, a family and a question left behind.”

MSP Alexander Burnett.

Previous data showed there were four deaths in total in Carstairs between March 2019 and November last year.

The new statistics show one death from April 2018 to April last 2021, with the additional three later in the year.

In their report, Public Health Scotland said that hospital stays for people with learning disabilities had declined massively since the late 1990s.

They stated: “This reflects changes in service delivery, moving away from long-term hospital care towards more community based care.

“In the last six years respite care, rather than treatment, was the main reason that people with learning disabilities were admitted to psychiatric hospitals between 2015/16 and 2020/21.”

‘Patient safety remains a priority’

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Any death is distressing for family, friends and those close to the individual.

“However, it is not possible to draw conclusions about cause of death from this data.

“Patient safety remains a priority for the Scottish Government.”

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