POLICE Scotland has launched more than 5500 investigations into patients reported missing from NHS facilities in just the last four years, it has emerged.

The Scottish Tories said the official figures were "deeply alarming", highlighting 226 of the investigations were into children who went missing from NHS grounds and hospitals.

MSP Jamie Greene said the data gave "serious cause for concern", especially as only cases reported to the police by the health service were included.

He urged Justice Secretary Keith Brown and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to provide both the police and health service with adequate resources to protect vulnerable patients, such as those with mental health issues. 

The figures, drawn from the Missing Persons Database, show that between April 2019 and last October, Police Scotland had undertaken 5297 inquiries into adults missing from healthcare facilities, as well as 226 into missing people aged under 18.

A local authority breakdown showed NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lothian accounted for more than half of the adults involved, and almost 100 of the young people. 

The number of people involved is likely to be less than the number of inquiries, as some individuals will have been reported missing more than once.

Mr Greene, Tory justice spokesman, said: "These figures are deeply alarming. Relatives expect their loved ones to be safe while they are staying, or being treated, in, an NHS facility.

"It gives serious cause for concern that over 200 investigations have had to be launched in just the last few years to determine the whereabouts of young people who went missing from NHS grounds.

"These young people will have felt extremely vulnerable and could have been at risk of serious harm after leaving the care of our dedicated NHS staff.

"The fact that thousands of investigations have taken place all points to frontline staff burnout on the SNP's watch.

"Due to shortages of staff across Scotland's NHS and the shattering toll of the pandemic, they have been pushed beyond breaking point. Exhaustion and under-staffing leads to incidents like this."

He went on: "There's a knock-on effect for our already overstretched police too, who are having to investigate these disappearances. 

"Officer numbers are at their lowest level since 2008, and they too are being asked to do too much.

"Keith Brown cannot dismiss these figures out of hand. They should be an urgent wake-up call for him to ensure that he gives our police the resources they need, and his colleague, Humza Yousaf, does the same for the NHS.

"Relatives must be given a guarantee by ministers that there is not a risk of their loved ones suddenly going missing while under the supervision of our health service."

The Scottish Government said the National Missing Persons Framework for Scotland aimed to "protect some of Scotland's most vulnerable individuals and ensure that the families and loved ones left behind were supported".

A spokesman said: "Ninety-nine per cent of all missing people are returned safely. The mental health workforce has expanded significantly in recent years, with staffing numbers at a record high.

"Despite this workforce expansion, we know that some children and young people are still waiting too long for treatment.

"We have committed to providing sufficient funding for around 320 additional staff in Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services over the next five years."

The NHS also dominated politics south of the border yesterday, as Labour said Tory "mismanagement" of the health service there was behind the current winter crisis.

Labour also said it was "inexplicable" that Health Secretary Steve Barclay and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appeared to be missing amid increasing direly warnings from doctors.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said up to 500 people a week were dying as a result of delays to emergency care, with a flu outbreak leading to record levels of bed occupancy and long A&E waits.

Professor Phil Banfield, chair of the British Medical Association council, said the UK Government's decision not to negotiate with striking healthcare workers over pay was a "political choice" that was leading to patients "dying unnecessarily".

He said: "The current situation in the NHS is intolerable and unsustainable, both for patients and the hardworking staff desperately trying to keep up with incredibly high levels of demand. The BMA has repeatedly invited the government to sit down and talk about the pressures on our health service, but their silence is deafening.

"It is disingenuous for the prime minister to talk about 'backing the NHS' in his New Year message, when his own health secretary is failing to discuss how this crisis can be fixed." 

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said it was "completely inexplicable as to why... not a single government minister, whether it's the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary, has raised shown their face to say what they are doing to grip this crisis".

The UK department of health said it recognised the pressure on NHS staff and said minsters were open to talks with unions about improvements.