Background: This study was designed to provide information about how out-of-hours services are used by those with mental health problems.
Method: Data were collected from agencies that patients with a mental health problem could directly access out of hours in an inner London health authority area. Data on all contacts were collected for a period of 4 weeks using various methods, including routinely collected data and specially designed data collection sheets.
Results: There were a total of 556 contacts across all of the services with 45 per cent of contacts presenting to an accident and emergency department. The type of service accessed was influenced by the sex of the patient, and the presenting complaint, so that females were more likely to contact their general practitioner and those with deliberate self-harm were more likely to attend an accident and emergency department. Females were more likely to present with deliberate self-harm, whereas men were more likely to present with suicidal feelings and depression.
Conclusions: The study highlights some clear patterns in how out-of-hours services are used for mental health problems. The data may be useful in helping providers to plan their services more appropriately. The study also highlighted some of the problems in collecting routine data of this nature.