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Standard acute psychiatric care in the UK is costly but problematic. Alternatives to standard in-patient wards exist, but little is known about their effectiveness, implementation and sustainability. This paper explores successful features and limitations of five residential alternative services in England and factors that facilitate or impede their initial and sustained implementation and success.
Semi-structured interviews about the functioning of six alternative services were conducted with 36 mental health professionals with good working knowledge of, and various connections with these services. A group interview with study researchers was also conducted. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.
One service did not show evidence of operating as an alternative and was excluded from further analysis. The remaining five alternatives are valued for providing a more holistic style of care than standard services that confers many perceived benefits. However, they are seen as less appropriate for compulsorily detained or highly disturbed patients, and as providing less comprehensive treatment packages than hospital settings. Factors identified as important to successful implementation and sustainability are: responding to known shortcomings in local acute care systems; balancing role clarity and adaptability; integration with other services; and awareness of the alternative among relevant local health-care providers.
Residential alternatives can play an important role in managing mental health crises. Their successful implementation and endurance depend on establishing and maintaining a valued position within local service systems. Findings contribute to bridging the gap between research evidence on the problems of standard acute care and delivering improved crisis management services.
Differences in the content of care provided by acute in-patient mental health wards and residential crisis services such as crisis houses have not been researched.
To compare planned and actual care provided at alternative and standard acute wards and to investigate the relationship between care received and patient satisfaction.
Perspectives of stakeholders, including local service managers, clinicians and commissioners, were obtained from 23 qualitative interviews. Quantitative investigation of the care provided at four alternative and four standard services was undertaken using three instruments developed for this study. The relationship of care received to patient satisfaction was explored.
No significant difference was found in intensity of staff– patient contact between alternative and standard services. Alternative services provided more psychological and less physical and pharmacological care than standard wards. Care provision may be more collaborative and informal in alternative services. All measured types of care were positively associated with patient satisfaction. Measured differences in the care provided did not explain the greater acceptability of community alternatives.
Similarities in care may be more marked than differences at alternative and standard services. Staff–patient contact is an important determinant of patient satisfaction, so increasing it should be a priority for all acute in-patient services.
Outcomes following admission to residential alternatives to standard in-patient mental health services are underresearched.
To explore short-term outcomes and costs of admission to alternative and standard services.
Health of the Nation Outcome Scales (HoNOS), Threshold Assessment Grid (TAG), Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) and admission cost data were collected for six alternative services and six standard services.
All outcomes improved during admission for both types of service (n = 433). Adjusted improvement was greater for standard services in scores on HoNOS (difference 1.99, 95% CI 1.12–2.86), TAG (difference 1.40, 95% CI 0.39–2.51) and GAF functioning (difference 4.15, 95% CI 1.08–7.22) but not GAF symptoms. Admissions to alternatives were 20.6 days shorter, and hence cheaper (UK£3832 v. £9850). Standard services cost an additional £2939 per unit HoNOS improvement.
The absence of clear-cut advantage for either type of service highlights the importance of the subjective experience and longer-term costs.
Key questions regarding residential alternatives to standard acute psychiatric care, such as crisis houses and short-stay in-patient units, concern the role that they fulfil within local acute care systems, and whether they manage people with needs and illnesses of comparable severity to those admitted to standard acute wards.
To study the extent to which people admitted to residential alternatives and to standard acute services are similar, and the role within local acute care systems of admission to an alternative service.
Our approach combined quantitative and qualitative methods. Consecutive cohorts of patients in six residential alternatives across England and six standard acute wards in the same areas were identified, and clinical and demographic characteristics, severity of symptoms, impairments and risks compared. Semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in each local service system were used to explore the role and functioning of each alternative.
Being already known to services (OR = 2.6, 95% CI 1.3–5.2), posing a lower risk to others (OR = 0.49, 95% CI 0.31–0.78) and having initiated help-seeking in the current crisis (OR = 2.2, 95% CI 1.2–4.3) were associated with being admitted to an alternative rather than a standard service. Stakeholder interviews suggested that alternatives have a role that is similar but not identical to standard hospital services. They can divert some, but not all, patients from acute admission.
Residential alternatives are integrated into catchment area mental health systems. They serve similar, but not identical, clinical populations to standard acute wards and provide some, but not all, of the functions of these wards.
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