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The effect of psychiatric decision unit services on inpatient admissions and mental health presentations in emergency departments: an interrupted time series analysis from two cities and one rural area in England

Smith, J. G., Anderson, K., Clarke, G. , Crowe, C., Goldsmith, L. P. ORCID: 0000-0002-6934-1925, Jarman, H., Johnson, S., Lomani, J., McDaid, D., Park, A. L., Turner, K. & Gillard, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-9686-2232 (2024). The effect of psychiatric decision unit services on inpatient admissions and mental health presentations in emergency departments: an interrupted time series analysis from two cities and one rural area in England. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 33, article number e15. doi: 10.1017/s2045796024000209


High-quality evidence is lacking for the impact on healthcare utilisation of short-stay alternatives to psychiatric inpatient services for people experiencing acute and/or complex mental health crises (known in England as psychiatric decision units [PDUs]). We assessed the extent to which changes in psychiatric hospital and emergency department (ED) activity were explained by implementation of PDUs in England using a quasi-experimental approach.

We conducted an interrupted time series (ITS) analysis of weekly aggregated data pre- and post-PDU implementation in one rural and two urban sites using segmented regression, adjusting for temporal and seasonal trends. Primary outcomes were changes in the number of voluntary inpatient admissions to (acute) adult psychiatric wards and number of ED adult mental health-related attendances in the 24 months post-PDU implementation compared to that in the 24 months pre-PDU implementation.

The two PDUs (one urban and one rural) with longer (average) stays and high staff-to-patient ratios observed post-PDU decreases in the pattern of weekly voluntary psychiatric admissions relative to pre-PDU trend (Rural: −0.45%/week, 95% confidence interval [CI] = −0.78%, −0.12%; Urban: −0.49%/week, 95% CI = −0.73%, −0.25%); PDU implementation in each was associated with an estimated 35–38% reduction in total voluntary admissions in the post-PDU period. The (urban) PDU with the highest throughput, lowest staff-to-patient ratio and shortest average stay observed a 20% (−20.4%, CI = −29.7%, −10.0%) level reduction in mental health-related ED attendances post-PDU, although there was little impact on long-term trend. Pooled analyses across sites indicated a significant reduction in the number of voluntary admissions following PDU implementation (−16.6%, 95% CI = −23.9%, −8.5%) but no significant (long-term) trend change (−0.20%/week, 95% CI = −0.74%, 0.34%) and no short- (−2.8%, 95% CI = −19.3%, 17.0%) or long-term (0.08%/week, 95% CI = −0.13, 0.28%) effects on mental health-related ED attendances. Findings were largely unchanged in secondary (ITS) analyses that considered the introduction of other service initiatives in the study period.

The introduction of PDUs was associated with an immediate reduction of voluntary psychiatric inpatient admissions. The extent to which PDUs change long-term trends of voluntary psychiatric admissions or impact on psychiatric presentations at ED may be linked to their configuration. PDUs with a large capacity, short length of stay and low staff-to-patient ratio can positively impact ED mental health presentations, while PDUs with longer length of stay and higher staff-to-patient ratios have potential to reduce voluntary psychiatric admissions over an extended period. Taken as a whole, our analyses suggest that when establishing a PDU, consideration of the primary crisis-care need that underlies the creation of the unit is key.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited. © the Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press.
Publisher Keywords: emergency departments; emergency psychiatry; health service research; inpatient psychiatry; psychiatric service
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Nursing
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