Police ‘being asked to do too much’ on NHS missing patients inquiries, says MP
Police Scotland has carried out more than 5,500 investigations into patients who have been reported missing from NHS facilities since 2019.
The figures were outlined in a written response from Justice Secretary Keith Brown to Conservative MSP Jamie Greene.
Since 2019/20, 226 investigations were launched in relation to young people under the age of 18 reported missing from NHS grounds.
Meanwhile, Police Scotland has undertaken 5,297 inquiries into adults missing from medical facilities.
The figures, drawn from the Missing Persons Database, cover up to October 31, 2022, and a person can appear multiple times within any year if they have been reported missing on more than one occasion.
A local authority breakdown of the data shows NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lothian accounted for more than 2,600 of the adults who were reported missing, while the latter saw 56 young people missing.
Mr Greene, who is justice spokesman for the Tories, said the figures “give serious cause for concern” as he said the complete figure could be much higher because the data provided only includes those reported to police.
He has urged Mr Brown and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to provide adequate resources for policing and the health sector to ensure the most vulnerable patients are not slipping through the cracks.
Mr Greene 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.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “The National Missing Persons Framework for Scotland aims to protect some of Scotland’s most vulnerable individuals and ensure that the families and loved ones left behind are supported.
“The framework enables multi-agency working, ensuring a consistent response is in place for vulnerable people, and 99% of all missing people are returned safely.
“The mental health workforce has expanded significantly in recent years, with staffing numbers at a record high.”
They added: “Despite this workforce expansion, we know that some children and young people are still waiting too long for treatment.
“In our NHS recovery plan, we have committed to providing sufficient funding for around 320 additional staff in Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) over the next five years.”