Objective: There is a paucity of literature on the content of referral letters to psychiatric services and few relating specifically to referrals to a department of old age psychiatry. There has been a significant increase in referrals over the last five years to this service, which may reflect the ageing population and a greater awareness of the service. Our objective was to evaluate the quality and legibility of information received, clarity of reason for referral and details of pre-referral management.
Methodology: The clinical records of the first 100 referrals in 2002 to this department were analysed. The referral letters were examined for the documentation of a number of demographic variables, reason for referral, interventions to date and level of urgency.
Results: The clinical records of nine patients did not have an identifiable referral letter at the time of this analysis. Of the remaining 91 analysed, 59% were referred by their GP, 33% were inpatient liaison referrals and 8% from outpatient departments. In the majority, patients' details were given, however, only 30% included a phone number. Next-of-kin was mentioned in 29%. GP's name was included in 71% of referrals from OPD and 7% of liaison referrals. The level of urgency was stated in 19%. Whether a domiciliary or OPD visit would be more appropriate was stated in 22%. The reason for referral was clear in 75%, with 43% including some aspect of Mental State Examination, 7% had included a MMSE score, 1% mentioned level of suicide risk.
Thirty-one per cent had pre-referral investigations and 45% had pre-referral treatment documented. The letters were clearly legible in 73%.
Conclusion: The information in the referral letter in many cases was insufficient to prioritise and expedite appropriate assessment. It is planned to introduce a proforma referral form, specific to old age psychiatry, which would include the information which is required and which would, hopefully, lead to a more efficient service.