Background Effective management of people who present to ambulance services with a psychiatric or self-harm emergency is essential to ensure positive outcomes. However very little is known about this vulnerable patient population. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate their demographic characteristics, care pathways, and clinical and service outcomes. This information will be valuable for service planning and intervention development.
Methods We conducted a retrospective cohort study of patients attended by the Scottish Ambulance Service in 2011 with ambulance clinician attendance codes relating to ‘psychiatric emergency’ or ‘self-harm’. Patients resident in Scotland and>=16 years on first contact were included. We used NHS Scotland’s Unscheduled Care Data Mart to link data from:–the ambulance service; emergency departments (ED); general and psychiatric inpatient hospital admissions episodes; and death records.
Results There were 9014 calls from 6802 people. Slightly more males (n=4708, 52%) than females (n=4306, 48%) were attended. Most were discharged from ED with no known follow-up (n=4566; 51%). Some were left at home (n=1003 attendances, 11%). Almost half of the people (n=3238, 48%) made at least one repeat call. People who self-discharge from ED were more likely to have another ambulance attendance for psychiatric emergency/self-harm within the same year (Pearson chi square=5.24, p=0.02). Two hundred and seventy-nine (4%) people died within the study period, 97 (35%) were recorded as suicide. Ethical approval (NRES 15/EM/0260) and other data approvals were received.
Conclusion While linked data analysis may not identify all relevant cases, it provides important information to guide the development and evaluation of evidence-based interventions. Ambulance service and ED are missing opportunities to improve outcomes for people who experience a psychiatric emergency or who self-harm. New interventions could lead to decreases in the number of suicides, episodes of self-harm and levels of patient distress; and ambulance and ED service use.
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