Homepage Latest news Rising number of detentions for mental ill health in Scotland, falling safeguards

Rising number of detentions for mental ill health in Scotland, falling safeguards

Publication date: 12 Oct, 2023

New figures published by the Mental Welfare Commission show that numbers of detentions of people in Scotland for compulsory mental health care and treatment rose in 2022-23, while safeguards fell.

There were 6,713 detentions in the year, a rise of 1.7% on the previous year. The report shows how figures have been mainly rising over the longer term, from 4,530 detentions in 2013-14.

There are difference types of detention, including emergency, short term and compulsory treatment orders. 

The expectation is that every emergency detention under the Mental Health Act should be decided by a doctor with the consent of a mental health officer (a specialist social worker) except if it not practicable. Yet each year the Commission records fewer emergency detentions with that mental health officer consent – in 2022-23, fewer than 40% involved a mental health officer.

Dr Arun Chopra, medical director, Mental Welfare Commission, said:

“Once again we are very concerned about the way emergency detentions are taking place. Today’s report shows that while the Act says that a doctor and a mental health officer should be responsible for these detentions, in over 60% of cases there was no mental health officer consent, so only one profession is involved in that decision.

“For young people aged under 25 – perhaps the most vulnerable of a vulnerable group of people - mental health officer consent was part of their emergency assessment and subsequent detention in only 33.8% of cases. This is not acceptable.

“We have been highlighting this issue over recent years. In July 2021 we made recommendations to health and social care partnerships, their respective local authorities and the Scottish Government about the capacity of the mental health workforce and the expectations around how detentions should take place not being realised in practice. The data in this report further evidences concerns around the workforce.

“We ask that this deficit in safeguarding is addressed locally and nationally. We believe that a more strategic long term approach could come from action related to the Scottish Mental Health Law Review, which is currently under consideration by government.”

The new report also shows clear links between deprivation and mental ill health, with a disproportionate number of detentions affecting people from deprived areas. Over 38% of emergency detentions related to people from the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland.

The report gives a wide range of detailed information related to use of the Mental Health Act in care and treatment, including data by health board area.