About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) provides long term trend information on patients with learning disabilities that were treated in Scottish psychiatric hospitals (1997/98 - 2020/21).

Main points

  • The number of discharges from the Learning Disability specialty fell sharply from around 4,700 in 1997/98 to around 1,700 in 2005/06. The decrease continues gradually until 2019/20. This reflects changes in service delivery, moving away from long-term hospital care towards more community-based care. There was a further fall between 2019/20 and 2020/21 from 820 to 316, the lowest number of discharges over the 24 years for which data are available. The fall in discharges during 2020/2021 is likely to be a result of measures put in place to respond to COVID-19 and also a marked reduction in discharges in NHS Dumfries and Galloway's primary facility offering short-stay respite breaks.

Image caption Discharges from the Learning Disability specialty in Scotland, 1997/98 – 2020/21
  • The number of patients discharged has also decreased over the time period reported (from nearly 900 in 1997/98 to just over 187 in 2020/21). The number of patients was in general much lower than the number of continuous inpatient stays (CISs) up to and including 2019/20. The exception is 2020/21, suggesting patients typically had only one episode of admission in 2020/21 whereas in previous years a number of patients had multiple admissions.
  • Respite care, rather than treatment, was the main reason that people with learning disabilities were admitted to psychiatric hospitals between 2015/16 and 2020/21 (just under six out of ten admissions).
  • 70.4% of the discharges from the Learning Disability specialty between 2015/16 and 2020/21 were for people in the under 25 age group; the number of discharges then reduces sharply as age increases.
  • 54.9% of patients treated in the Learning Disability specialty between 2015/16 and 2020/21 were male. This is consistent with previous years.
  • In the period 2015/16 to 2020/21, people with a learning disability who lived in the most deprived areas were 2.9 times more likely to experience an episode of inpatient care in the Learning Disability specialty compared to those living in the least deprived areas.


This publication relates to learning disability patients receiving inpatient care in mental health (psychiatric) hospitals. This information was previously published within the Hospital inpatient care of people with mental health problems in Scotland report, but then became a standalone publication in December 2019, accompanied by open data.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway records a large proportion of discharges at Acorn House, a facility that offers short-stay respite breaks for children & young people with learning disabilities and which saw a marked reduction in discharges in 2021/22. It should be noted however that while this service is offered across Scotland, Dumfries & Galloway is the only NHS Board that records this activity in the dataset this report is based upon (Scottish Morbidity Record 04).

Further information

For related topics, please see the mental health section of the Data and Intelligence website (external website).

Further releases of this publication are subject to a forthcoming consultation.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.mentalhealthanalytics@phs.scot.

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Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 21 March 2024
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