INSPECTORS have revealed alarming levels of fear among patients on Scotland’s acute psychiatric units with a quarter of female patients reporting being sexually harassed on mixed wards.

A review of 47 mental health wards across Scotland found that one in five patients feel unsafe during the night on hospital "due to reduced staffing levels", with one patient telling inspectors they had "put a chair against my door because of the violence and the shortage of staff". Another patient complained that the atmosphere could be "quite frightening" due to patients with drug and alcohol problems, swearing and talking past midnight on mobile phones.

The report, published today [Thu] by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, said safety was a "significant issue" for women in particular, with 28 on mixed wards saying they had felt unsafe compared to only two men. Only four of the 47 wards visited were single sex.

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It said: "The concerns expressed by the females related to feeling vulnerable in a mixed sex environment, again especially at night and finding the behaviours of some men upsetting. Some spoke of having experienced men making inappropriate sexual comments to them on the ward, which they found distressing."

Of those who reported concerns, half did not think their complaint had been dealt with and around a third said they had not reported concerns because they feared repercussions, thought staff were "too busy", did not want to "make trouble" or preferred to talk to their family.

The findings emerged during interviews with 323 inpatients aged from 16 to 86 carried out at the end of 2016. Although 74 per cent said they felt safe "always or most of the time", 19 per cent said they had felt unsafe - up from 16 per cent during the last review in 2012 - rising to one in four for women on mixed wards.

Alison Thomson, executive director for nursing at MWC Scotland, said: “People in mental health admission wards are often at their most vulnerable, and it was concerning to hear patients tell us they were worried about their own safety, particularly at night.”

While the majority of patients were being treated for psychosis, depression, bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses, inspectors said they were "concerned" by the long hospital stays for patients with alcohol-related brain damage who accounted for just five per cent of patients but 14 per cent of admissions over 200 days.

The report also found that 86 patients had been "boarded out" to other wards in their hospital because there were no free psychiatric beds. This mainly occurred in the Lothian, Tayside and Greater Glasgow and Clyde areas. Inspectors warned that this should only happen in "exceptional circumstances".

However, the report also welcomed improvements in the physical environment of wards and more focus on patient recovery.

Scottish Conservative mental health spokesman Miles Briggs said the report was "deeply concerning".

He added: “When it comes to mental health treatment, feeling both safe and secure can often make a huge difference for patients to recover in the quickest time possible.

“I hope that these concerns particularly around patient safety at night as well as the concerns expressed by women being placed in mixed sex wards will be taken on board and addressed.”

Scottish Labour Inequalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon MSP said: "No one should be made to feel unsafe or be subjected to sexual remarks, especially not vulnerable patients in our hospitals.

"The report highlights some really good practice and NHS staff must be commended for this. But it's clear that overcrowded wards, delayed-discharges and lack of staff is affecting patient care and recovery.

It comes weeks after the Scottish Government pledged to spend £300 million on mental health over the next five years, including recruiting 800 new mental health staff for A&E departments, GP practices, police station custody suites and prisons as part of its new 10-year Mental Health Strategy. However, Colin McKay, chief executive of MWC Scotland, said the plans lacked "clarity", while campaigners said the investment fell short of what is needed.

Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said: “We take the safety of psychiatric patients, both male and female, extremely seriously and the Scottish Patient Safety Programme for Mental Health has improved inpatient safety over the last four years."

She added that health boards would be expected to act on the report recommendations on reducing lengthy admissions, boarding out of patients and delayed discharge.