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The steep rise in the rate of psychiatric hospital detentions in England is poorly understood.
To identify explanations for the rise in detentions in England since 1983; to test their plausibility and support from evidence; to develop an explanatory model for the rise in detentions.
Hypotheses to explain the rise in detentions were identified from previous literature and stakeholder consultation. We explored associations between national indicators for potential explanatory variables and detention rates in an ecological study. Relevant research was scoped and the plausibility of each hypothesis was rated. Finally, a logic model was developed to illustrate likely contributory factors and pathways to the increase in detentions.
Seventeen hypotheses related to social, service, legal and data-quality factors. Hypotheses supported by available evidence were: changes in legal approaches to patients without decision-making capacity but not actively objecting to admission; demographic changes; increasing psychiatric morbidity. Reductions in the availability or quality of community mental health services and changes in police practice may have contributed to the rise in detentions. Hypothesised factors not supported by evidence were: changes in community crisis care, compulsory community treatment and prescribing practice. Evidence was ambiguous or lacking for other explanations, including the impact of austerity measures and reductions in National Health Service in-patient bed numbers.
Better data are needed about the characteristics and service contexts of those detained. Our logic model highlights likely contributory factors to the rise in detentions in England, priorities for future research and potential policy targets for reducing detentions.