Communication between secondary and primary care following self-harm: are National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines being met?

Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Oct 23;7:21. doi: 10.1186/1744-859X-7-21.


Background: Most patients contact their general practitioner (GP) following presentation to an Emergency Department (ED) after a self-harm incident, and strategies to help GPs manage these patients include efficient communication between services. The aim of this study was to assess the standard of documentation and communication to primary care from secondary care as recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines on the short-term management of people who self-harm.

Methods: An audit of medical records (ED and Psychiatric) on people aged 16 years and over who had presented to the ED following self-harm, benchmarked according to government guidelines, was performed. Data were collected over a 4-week period at a general teaching hospital.

Results: We collected data on 93 consecutive episodes of self-harm; 62% of episodes were communicated to primary care, 58% of these communications were within 24 h and most within 3 days. Patient identifying details and follow-up arrangements were specified in most cases. Communication via psychiatric staff was most detailed. ED clinicians provided few communications and were of limited content. Communication with the patient's GP was not made in half of those cases seen by a mental health specialist.

Conclusion: Government guidelines are only partially being met. Reliance on communication by ED staff would leave a substantial proportion of patients discharged from the ED with no or minimal communication to primary care. Psychiatric services need to improve the rate of communication to the patient's GP following assessment A national sample of National Health Service (NHS) trusts would establish if this is a problem elsewhere.