Absconding from acute psychiatric wards is common. This paper reports the views of 25 staff nurses working on acute mental health wards in East London about absconding. Interviews explored how staff feel when a patient absconds, the complexities of risk assessment and observation policies, who is blamed when patients abscond and what might reduce absconding.
The assessment of the level of risk which a patient posed varied considerably, with some wards using standard risk assessment tools and others talking about their own methods. There was some evidence of conflict with medical staff about what measures should be put in place to manage the risk (observation level, leave). The interviewees were aware of serious consequences of absconding, and this made them worry when patients absconded. Following an abscond most nurses look for an explanation, and this can lead to blame of other members of the team. A sizeable minority spoke of feeling unsupported by their managers, and that their jobs could be at risk following an abscond.
The nurses felt that absconding could be reduced through a number of measures, principally raising staffing levels and reducing the reliance on agency nurses.