Determinants of absconding by patients on acute psychiatric wards


Len Bowers Dr St Bartholomew School of Nursing and Midwifery, City University, Philpot Street, London E1 2EA, England. E-mail:


Determinants of absconding by patients on acute psychiatric wards

Absconding by patients from acute psychiatric wards is a high risk behaviour and has been linked to harm to self and others. Previous research on the characteristics of absconders has been overly reliant on officially generated statistics and small numbers of variables, limiting the conclusions that may be drawn. This paper reports on a prospective study of absconders from 12 acute admission wards in three English National Health Service Trusts over 5 months, compared to a control group matched for ward. Extensive data on absconder and control characteristics were collected from case records and from nursing staff. Absconders were significantly different from controls in many respects. Absconding is linked to other forms of non-compliant patient behaviour, e.g. medication refusal and involvement in violent incidents. Significant variations in the rates of absconding were found between different wards, and between different consultant psychiatrists. Predictive factors were identified by logistic regression. Study in the diverse fields of non-compliance should be brought together as these phenomena are likely to be interrelated. Further investigation is required to determine exactly what it is that consultant psychiatrists and ward nurses do that affects absconding rates.