Objective: A paucity of research exists on the types of patients admitted to psychiatric intensive care units (PICUs), which is important in terms of identifying patient needs, training and service provision. Questions have also been raised as to whether or not ethnic minorities are overrepresented in these units.
Method: A literature review using MeSH headings from a wealth of databases was performed to identify such studies. In addition studies on ethnic minority overrepresentation in psychiatric care were also identified.
Results: Under a dozen studies were identified, mainly from the UK and Australia. Study designs tended to be basic and heterogeneous, but this was reflected in the nature of the study and the data gained. A typical PICU patient emerged, namely a young schizophrenic detained male, belonging to an ethnic minority (if in an inner city), known to mental health services with previous informal, detained and PICU admissions, admitted due to violence and often possessing a forensic history. If a complex need existed, it was usually substance misuse. The inpatient stay tended to be for less than two months and discharge was usually to an acute ward. Ethnic minorities were overrepresented in PICU care.
Conclusions: The literature review highlighted a paucity of good-quality studies in this field. The establishment of a national association of intensive care units as well as national guidelines can only improve services. The reason for ethnic minority over-representation on these units is still far from clear.