Patients 'escape' from psychiatric hospital

MENTALLY ill patients have escaped and gone AWOL while detained for their own safety at a Wakefield psychiatric hospital.

The Express has learned that 198 people, held under the mental health act at Fieldhead Hospital, have gone missing in the past three years.

A total of 104 patients absconded in the three-year period, while 96 failed to return to the Ouchthorpe Lane facility for treatment at an agreed time after being deemed unfit to remain out in public.

A small number of those detained were held there to protect the public.

Among them was an offender who sparked a police manhunt in August 2007. Police said he could turn violent without his medication, and warned people not to approach him before he was later tracked down.

Bosses at the hospital said that type of incident was very rare.

In 2007, there were 84 reports of missing patients from Fieldhead, while 69 went missing the following year, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

So far this year, three patients have absconded and 12 have gone AWOL from the 205-bed facility, which treats patients with schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.

But health chiefs have denied there is a security problem at the hospital, where 2,226 in-patients were admitted in the three-year period.

Steven Michael, chief executive of South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said patients were reported to the police promptly if they failed to return from planned leave, which was an essential part of their recovery.

He said: “When people abscond or are absent without leave we work hard to return them to our care and look carefully at the circumstances surrounding the incident and learn from them.”

He added: “In-patient mental health care is a fine balance between the rights and liberty of individuals and safety issues. The trust works very hard to manage this risk and help individuals get well again without posing risks to themselves or others.

“Gone are the days when every person with a mental health illness is immediately ‘locked up’.”