Objective: To quantify the number of patients absent without leave (AWOL) from an Irish psychiatric hospital in one year and to examine the clinical and demographic data of this group of patients.
Method: This was a retrospective study of all patients reported as AWOL from St Brendan's Hospital in 1991. The following information was obtained from the patients' case notes: age, sex, legal status, marital status, psychiatric diagnosis, number of previous admissions, past history of absconding, length and outcome of absence. Their clinical and demographic variables were compared with a control group of 214 patients (non-absconders) randomly selected from the hospital admissions over a 12 month period.
Results: A total of 48 patients absconded. The majority were male, single, compulsorily detained, with a past history of absconding. The most common psychiatric diagnoses were schizophrenia (32%), personality disorder (23%) and alcohol dependence syndrome (17%). While absent, three patients had a history of suicidal behaviour and four became involved in criminal activity. Compulsory status was statistically significant when compared to the control group.
Conclusion: The characteristics of our group of absconders are similar to those in previous studies apart from the increased prevalence of personality disorder and alcohol dependence syndrome. We discuss the risks associated with absconding and recommend close follow-up of this group of patients.