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24 February 2016, 07:27
Almost a third of patients with learning disabilities are waiting to be discharged from specialist hospital units in Scotland, with some facing delays of years.
A report by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland found that 58 of 180 inpatients in learning disability units (32%) are recorded as delayed discharges.
It said some patients identified as being ready for discharge had been waiting in hospital for years, with one person delayed for almost nine years.
The problem was worst in NHS Lothian, where 46% of patients were affected by delayed discharge, followed by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (37%) and NHS Forth Valley (33%).
In almost three-quarters of cases (74%), a lack of identified housing or accommodation was a factor in the delay while the absence of an appropriate support provider or the unavailability of funding for a community placement also had an impact in 62% and 41% of cases respectively.
The commission visited all 18 hospital units for people with learning disabilities between August and October last year.
Its report said: "The information we received raised serious concerns about the deprivation of liberty of a considerable number of people detained in hospital, often for considerable periods of time.
"They could be living in less restrictive community settings if appropriate accommodation and funding were available.''
The commission also highlighted that nine people were on waiting lists for admission to services at the time of its visits.
Chief executive Colin McKay said: "We understand that some people need complex care and support, which can take time to put in place.
"But a hospital is not designed to be a home, and having people stay for years in a hospital environment, often without all the facilities they should have, is not acceptable.
"We're calling for the Scottish Government, as a matter of urgency, to work with the new integrated joint boards to end these long delays in discharge, and to ensure all learning disability inpatient units are fit for purpose.''
The report makes 18 recommendations to the Scottish Government, NHS boards and service managers, including the development of a plan to end delayed discharges.
It also acknowledged that the majority of care and treatment plans for people with learning disabilities in hospital were good while families and carers were "generally very complimentary'' about the services.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "The Scottish Government is committed to significantly reducing the number of people in Scotland who are waiting to move from hospital to more appropriate settings. This includes patients with a learning disability and those who have complex care needs.
"This is why we are working to transform health and social care through the integration of services, which comes into full force in April 2016.
"We also recently announced, as part of the draft Budget for 2016-17, an additional £250 million commitment to support health and social care partnerships.
"This funding is in addition to the three-year #90 million we have already invested in reducing delays. This move will see fewer people going to hospital to receive care and people spending less time in hospital.''