Aims: (1) To ascertain characteristics of patients in low secure units; (2) To examine whether standard 5 of the National Service Frameworks was being followed; (3) To investigate reasons for any delays in discharge and how these could be addressed.
Method: Audit survey of National Service Frameworks for Mental Health standard 5 patients being treated in least restrictive environment as close to their home as possible by case notes, interviews with ward manager and questionnaires.
Results: Patients in mental health units had greater numbers of admissions to hospital than those from learning disabilities units. They had more contact with the criminal justice system and had spent time in prison. The main diagnosis was schizophrenia.
Patients in learning disabilities units were more likely to be Black Caribbean or African and to have had special needs at school. They exhibited current higher risk to others and to self, by deliberate and non-deliberate self-harm. They had diagnoses of mild learning disabilities and autism. About a third of both groups of patients were assessed as being able to move to a lower level of security. The most suitable facility for these patients was an open unit in the community staffed by nurses.
Conclusion: For a third of the patients standard 5 of the National Service Frameworks was not met because they were not ‘in the least restrictive environment’. Open community facilities staffed by nurses over 24 hours was the most appropriate unit for a majority of these patients.