There are many factors that can impact on the frequency and quality of visits, including the travel time and distances to and from forensic units. Having to travel considerable distances, often making a round trip of at least 50 miles, was a common experience and clearly impacted on the frequency of visits. Invariably, a long drive to visit someone in the high secure hospital restricted visiting to weekends.
Some carers interviewed said that if they lived nearer to the secure facility they would visit more often, though others mentioned that the regularity of visits was dictated more by their relative and whether or not he wanted them to visit. Moving from high secure services to medium or low secure services nearer to home had increased how often some carers were able to visit:
It’s far better now in the [name of medium secure unit] because you go to visit him quite often, as often as you wanted to, whereas it’s very difficult being away in the wilderness you know because it is very far away you know. (father)
Ease of travel was another important factor, and the availability of services like free transport helped to relieve some of the strains of visiting. Juggling the demands of the rest of their lives (if they were in employment and/or were looking after a family, for instance), with the practical realities of travelling to and from forensic units, together with the emotional challenges of visiting, added to the ‘daunting’ prospect of the experience. One couple visited their son every weekend but caring responsibilities for other family members meant they could not always both go.
In addition to distance, ease of travel was an important factor influencing frequency of visits. Using their own transport or making a trip that did not involve excessive bus or train changes had an impact:
I had the over 60’s card right from the start so it was… and I mean it’s clearly an easier trip because you don’t have to change stations at Glasgow you just… yeah it’s a dead easy trip although it’s time consuming… (father)
Financial help to support visiting people in forensic mental health services appeared to be limited to travel to and from the State Hospital, and if available in respect of medium or low secure facilities, carers had not heard about it. Only 21% of survey respondents were aware that there was any financial support for carers. Further, only a minority of those interviewed commented on financial support, either saying they had received a set amount of £12, mentioning the free bus service from parts of Scotland to the State Hospital, or expressing surprise that such help should be offered:
No, I’ve had no advice about anything like that no… I could manage without it but you know I do think if there’s people probably got to get buses and things like that and haven’t you know got much money I suppose that would help them really. (mother)
Free bus services co-ordinated by SACRO transported people from different parts of Scotland (specifically Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow) on scheduled fortnightly services to the State Hospital. One interviewee identified this as the main form of transport she used to visit her relative:
Well obviously because it’s so far away there is a bus laid on for carers which comes from Aberdeen every fortnight and it comes from Aberdeen, it brings carers from Aberdeen, it stops in Dundee and it takes us down, that runs every second Sunday and that’s a free service… but yeah generally I get the free bus every fortnight.” (sister)
Despite practical and potential monetary challenges, all those we interviewed and many of the survey respondents had managed to maintain a schedule of regular visits to their relatives to remain in contact.