Background: Both the National Health Service (NHS) and the private sector provide psychiatric intensive care. To date little is known about the differences between the two sectors regarding the unit functioning and characteristics of patients who are accommodated in psychiatric intensive care units (PICUs).
Aim: To compare the unit and patient characteristics of NHS and private PICUs.
Method: A cross sectional census day postal design was employed.
Results: A total of 170 PICUs (154 NHS, 16 private) were identified. NHS PICUs accommodated 1038 patients and the private PICUs housed 200 patients. Analysis of the data showed that some differences existed between the two sectors related to unit characteristics. Private units reported having higher number of beds, more nursing staff, more unit facilities and more out of area referrals than the NHS Units. Regarding the patient characteristics, private PICUs had significantly more patients with personality disorders and forensic history than the NHS PICUs. NHS patients had a shorter length of stay compared to those in the private sector. The demographic profiles of NHS and private PICU patients were similar. The majority of the patients were white, male, unemployed and single.
Conclusion: The NHS and the private sector PICUs share many characteristics in terms of unit functioning and patient characteristics, however, some significant differences between the two sectors have also emerged.