Carstairs Hospital

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Carstairs Hospital
Construction Began 1936
Opened 1948 (as a Mental Hospital)
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location South Lanarkshire
Alternate Names
  • State Institution for Mental Defectives
  • State Mental Hospital
  • State Hospital For Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • State Hospital


In 1936 building began on the present site. Initially it was to house ‘mental defectives’ and become The State Institution for Mental Defectives. The building work was completed in 1939, but as this coincided with the Second World War, it was not handed over for use. Instead the facility was handed over to the army and used to treat mostly military staff requiring treatment as a result of war. The army handed back the Hospital in 1948 for civilian use. It was opened in 1948 as the institution for mental defectives (correct term now is ‘patients with a learning disability’) and used as such until building was completed on the West Wingof the site. In 1957, with building complete, the patients were transferred to the new buildings on the East Wing.

On 1 October 1957, 90 prisoners presumably with mental illness from the criminal lunatic department at Perth were transferred to the Carstairs site along with staff. The combined institution then became The State Mental Hospital. While there had been many incidents that affected the running of the Hospital, its role changed very little. The Hospital would contain its patients, and then often as a secondary element offer treatment. Major changes usually came about as and when the Mental Health Act was revised.

In 1960 a new Mental Health Act came into force. One of the Act’s main features was that ‘mental defectives’ and persons suffering from a mental illness, no longer required to be nursed separately. As with all changes, these were implemented very slowly. In general terms, the ethos changed very little, and the main goal remained as containment. By the late 1960s Scottish psychiatry was moving towards not admitting patients with a personality disorder. Mainly patients that had a mental illness or were intellectually disabled came to the Hospital.

St Andrew's Day in 1976 marked a major incident for the Hospital when two patients escaped. This escape resulted in the loss of life of a member of nursing staff, a patient and a Police Officer. Security was immediately reviewed and strengthened. In 1984 the Mental Health Act was revised having an effect on the type of patient being admitted to the Hospital, although there is evidence that the escape in 1976 had more impact on the admission of patients with a personality disorder than that of the 1984 Act. Nonetheless, much more emphasis was directed towards care and treatment. The change continued slowly until 1991, when with the appointment of a General Manager (now Chief Executive), it was recognised that further change had to be achieved. In 1994 legislation went through Parliament to bring the State Hospital legally into the National Health Service in Scotland as a Special Health Board- the State Hospitals Board for Scotland. This marked a major milestone in the Hospital’s development becoming the sole provider of special secure mental health services for patients from Scotland and NorthernIreland.

Until October 1996, the Hospital operated on a split site. While most of the facilities were located on the West Wing, a substantial number of patients were housed in wards on the East Wing, separated from the main campus by a public road, a railway and two high security fences. Following relocation onto the West Wing, all patients were accommodated on one site in eleven wards. This move greatly enhanced the quality of life of patients, by removing the need for time consuming shuttle buses, and increasing everyone’s access to on and off-ward activities. Today, improving and modernising services for patients continues to be a priority. Significant rebuild is taking place due to the poor physical condition of the estate and obligations to meet statutory requirements to ensure patients are treated in accommodation appropriate to their needs and in an environment that supports rehabilitation. Skanska, themulti-national building contractor has been contracted to rebuild the State Hospital. The objective being to replace the existing Hospital with a modern fit for purpose Hospital which will be completed in 2011. The new Hospital will have 140 high-secure beds for male patients requiring maximum secure care: 12 specifically for patients with a learning disability.