Objectives: Deliberate self-harm (DSH) patients, despite their risk of suicide, are often discharged directly from accident and emergency (A&E) departments without undergoing a psychiatric assessment. The aims of this study were to determine the characteristics and outcome of these patients.
Methods: The characteristics of DSH patients who were discharged directly from an A&E department over a 2-year period were investigated, comparing those who had a psychiatric assessment with those who did not. In a matched control design, the outcome of a group of patients who did not receive a psychiatric assessment was compared with that of a group of patients who were assessed.
Results: Of DSH patients who were discharged directly from the A&E department 58.9% (145/246) did not have a psychiatric assessment. Nonassessed patients were more likely to have a past history of DSH, to be in the 20-34 year age group, and to have exhibited difficult behaviour in the A&E department. Patients presenting between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. were less likely to be assessed than those attending between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Further DSH during the subsequent year occurred in 37.5% of the nonassessed patients compared with 18.2% of matched assessed patients. They were also more likely to have psychiatric treatment.
Conclusion: A substantial proportion of DSH patients discharged directly from A&E departments do not receive a psychiatric assessment. Nonassessed patients may be at greater risk of further DSH and completed suicide than those who are assessed. Hospital services need to be organised such that DSH patients managed in A&E departments can receive an assessment of psychosocial problems and risk.