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Evaluating mental health decision units in acute care pathways (DECISION): a quasi-experimental, qualitative and health economic evaluation

Gillard, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-9686-2232, Anderson, K., Clarke, G. , Crowe, C., Goldsmith, L. ORCID: 0000-0002-6934-1925, Jarman, H., Johnson, S., Lomani, J., McDaid, D., Pariza, P., Park, A-L., Smith, J., Turner, K. & Yoeli, H. (2023). Evaluating mental health decision units in acute care pathways (DECISION): a quasi-experimental, qualitative and health economic evaluation. Health and Social Care Delivery Research, 11(25), pp. 1-221. doi: 10.3310/pbsm2274


BACKGROUND: People experiencing mental health crises in the community often present to emergency departments and are admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Because of the demands on emergency department and inpatient care, psychiatric decision units have emerged to provide a more suitable environment for assessment and signposting to appropriate care.

OBJECTIVES: The study aimed to ascertain the structure and activities of psychiatric decision units in England and to provide an evidence base for their effectiveness, costs and benefits, and optimal configuration.

DESIGN: This was a mixed-methods study comprising survey, systematic review, interrupted time series, synthetic control study, cohort study, qualitative interview study and health economic evaluation, using a critical interpretive synthesis approach.

SETTING: The study took place in four mental health National Health Service trusts with psychiatric decision units, and six acute hospital National Health Service trusts where emergency departments referred to psychiatric decision units in each mental health trust.

PARTICIPANTS: Participants in the cohort study (n = 2110) were first-time referrals to psychiatric decision units for two 5-month periods from 1 October 2018 and 1 October 2019, respectively. Participants in the qualitative study were first-time referrals to psychiatric decision units recruited within 1 month of discharge (n = 39), members of psychiatric decision unit clinical teams (n = 15) and clinicians referring to psychiatric decision units (n = 19).

OUTCOMES: Primary mental health outcome in the interrupted time series and cohort study was informal psychiatric hospital admission, and in the synthetic control any psychiatric hospital admission; primary emergency department outcome in the interrupted time series and synthetic control was mental health attendance at emergency department. Data for the interrupted time series and cohort study were extracted from electronic patient record in mental health and acute trusts; data for the synthetic control study were obtained through NHS Digital from Hospital Episode Statistics admitted patient care for psychiatric admissions and Hospital Episode Statistics Accident and Emergency for emergency department attendances. The health economic evaluation used data from all studies. Relevant databases were searched for controlled or comparison group studies of hospital-based mental health assessments permitting overnight stays of a maximum of 1 week that measured adult acute psychiatric admissions and/or mental health presentations at emergency department. Selection, data extraction and quality rating of studies were double assessed. Narrative synthesis of included studies was undertaken and meta-analyses were performed where sufficient studies reported outcomes.

RESULTS: Psychiatric decision units have the potential to reduce informal psychiatric admissions, mental health presentations and wait times at emergency department. Cost savings are largely marginal and do not offset the cost of units. First-time referrals to psychiatric decision units use more inpatient and community care and less emergency department-based liaison psychiatry in the months following the first visit. Psychiatric decision units work best when configured to reduce either informal psychiatric admissions (longer length of stay, higher staff-to-patient ratio, use of psychosocial interventions), resulting in improved quality of crisis care or demand on the emergency department (higher capacity, shorter length of stay). To function well, psychiatric decision units should be integrated into the crisis care pathway alongside a range of community-based support.

LIMITATIONS: The availability and quality of data imposed limitations on the reliability of some analyses.

FUTURE WORK: Psychiatric decision units should not be commissioned with an expectation of short-term financial return on investment but, if appropriately configured, they can provide better quality of care for people in crisis who would not benefit from acute admission or reduce pressure on emergency department.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright © 2023 Gillard et al. This work was produced by Gillard et al. under the terms of a commissioning contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. This is an Open Access publication distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 4.0 licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, reproduction and adaptation in any medium and for any purpose provided that it is properly attributed. See: For attribution the title, original author(s), the publication source – NIHR Journals Library, and the DOI of the publication must be cited.
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
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