JUSTICE SECRETARY Michael Matheson has been warned of a "self-harm epidemic" in Scotland's prisons after incidents jumped 70 per cent in three years.

Scottish Prison Service (SPS) figures show that since 2013 there have been 1,512 self-harm incidents in prisons.

There were 287 incidents recorded in 2013 and the numbers have increased yearly, hitting 494 last year.

The figures were obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats under Freedom of Information legislation and include self-harms, threats to self-harm and attempted suicide.

The Scottish Prison Service denied there was a self-harm "epidemic" and claimed the Scottish Government said improved processes for collecting information may have led to the "erroneous belief" that self-harm has increased.

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur has written to Matheson to call for urgent reform of prison mental health care.

He said: "It is troubling to see the number of self-harm incidents in prisons has been rising year-on-year. With almost 500 cases of self-harm last year, reform of prison mental health care is urgently needed.

He added: "Incarceration doesn't mean people should be deprived of the same access to health care as anyone else in the community. Yet there has long been a sense that this is the case.

"I hope the Cabinet Secretary recognises that these figures cannot be ignored and that we need to reverse this alarming trend in self-harm."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government takes mental and emotional wellbeing very seriously and would encourage any prisoners with thoughts of self-harm to speak to SPS so they can provide appropriate support.

"SPS' reporting processes have also improved in recent years and they are more rigorous in collating information than previously, which may lead to an erroneous belief that the numbers of those self-harming has dramatically increased. The SPS is constantly reviewing processes to ensure those at risk of such are identified and supported effectively.

"The next Mental Health Strategy will be published imminently. We are also increasing the mental health budget by £35 million over the next five years to grow the mental health workforce, giving prisons access to dedicated mental health professionals."

An SPS spokeswoman said there is "no self-harm epidemic" in Scottish prisons.