The profile of absconding psychiatric inpatients in Australia
Muir-Cochrane, Eimear Caitlin
Mosel, Krista A
Esterman, Adrian Jeffrey
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AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to examine absconding behaviour (a patient leaving the hospital without permission) in acute and rehabilitation wards of one Australian psychiatric institution to describe the characteristics of the absconding patient and these events. BACKGROUND: Absconding is a significant issue in psychiatric inpatient settings, with risks that include patient harm, aggression and violence. In spite of this, limited research has been conducted in Australia on patients who abscond while receiving psychiatric care. DESIGN: The study was a retrospective descriptive analysis. METHOD: Absconding events from three acute and seven rehabilitation wards over a 12-month period were studied. RESULTS: The rate of absconding events by detained patients was 20.82%. Gender was not significantly associated with absconding, although 61.19% of those who absconded were men diagnosed with schizophrenic disorders. Over half of acute care patients who absconded left during their first 21-day detention order. More than half of absconding events were by patients that absconded more than once. There was limited support for the efficacy of locking ward doors. Age and diagnosis emerged as particularly important factors to consider. DISCUSSION: The study revealed that men are not more likely to abscond than women, that locking ward doors does not deter the determined absconders and that once a person has absconded, they are more likely to do so again. Younger patients and those with a schizophrenic disorder may be particularly likely to abscond. There also appears to be a link between continuing detention orders and an absconding event. CONCLUSIONS: Findings provide new data about the profile of absconding patients in Australia. Exploration of the reasons why patients abscond and why many do so repeatedly warrants further investigation. RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Risk management approaches taking into account factors associated with absconding could be trialled to reduce the incidence of absconding in psychiatric inpatient settings.