Suicidal patients and special observation


Correspondence: M.Cleary Central Sydney Area Mental Health Service (CSAMHS) PO Box 1 Rozelle NSW 2039 Australia


Special observation is a nursing practice utilized in in-patient psychiatric facilities for patients who are suicidal. Special observation is carried out by an allocated registered nurse remaining continuously at arms length from, or within sight of (as specified), the patient; or a registered nurse observing the patient within a 30 min interval. In this exploratory study, we investigated the role of the registered nurse when caring for patients on special observation. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 10 randomly selected registered nurses from 4 acute psychiatric wards. The 9 themes that emerged were: 1) Safety; 2) Therapeutic relationships; 3) Supporting patients and carers; 4) Consequences of special observation for nurses; 5) Continuity of care concerns; 6) Peer support; 7) Suicide indicators; 8) Responsibilities and rights: nurses and patients; and 9) Nurses, doctors and the hospital hierarchy. Recommendations for alleviation of the concerns about the practice of special observation are outlined and discussed.