Learning disability patients 'waiting years' for discharge

Hospital Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The report found 58 people were waiting to be discharged from learning disability units in Scotland

A patient in a learning disability unit in a Scottish hospital has waited nine years to be discharged despite no longer needing care, a health watchdog has claimed.

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland said 32% of patients in such units were ready to be discharged.

However, some are waiting months or years to be released from hospital.

The Scottish government said it was committed to moving patients to "more appropriate settings".

The commission said the situation varied across health boards, with those having the largest number of beds also having the highest number of people waiting to leave hospital.

In NHS Lothian, 46% of patients - amounting to 17 people - are in hospital when they no longer need hospital care.

According to the report, 58 people with learning disabilities are awaiting discharge across Scotland, out of a total of 180 in-patients.

'Poorly maintained'

The commission visited all hospital units in Scotland for people with a learning disability, excluding forensic services.

Researchers examined the records of 104 people, met 46 patients individually and heard from 47 carers and relatives.

The report also examined patients' quality of life and found that most care and treatment plans for people with learning disabilities in hospital were good, with families and carers generally "very complimentary" about the service.

But the study also found there was often a lack of space for facilities like therapeutic kitchens, with some units poorly maintained.

Colin McKay, chief executive of the Mental Welfare Commission, said: "The main reasons for delays in discharge were lack of funding, lack of accommodation, lack of an appropriate care provider, or a combination of these issues.

"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."

Delays 'reducing'

Mr McKay said the commission was calling on the Scottish government "as a matter of urgency" to end the delays to discharge and improve learning disability units.

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."

Ms Robison said the number of days patients spent in hospital due to delayed discharge was falling, but she welcomed the commission's work in identifying areas where more work was needed.

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