‘Safe enough in here?’: patients' expectations and experiences of feeling safe in an acute psychiatric inpatient ward


  • Rosemary C Stenhouse MSc, PhD, RMN

    Lecturer, Corresponding author
    1. Division of Nursing and Counselling, University of Abertay Dundee, Dundee, UK
    • Correspondence: Rosemary C Stenhouse, Lecturer, Division of Nursing and Counselling, University of Abertay Dundee, Bell Street, Dundee DD1 1HG, UK. Telephone: +44 (0)1382 308508.

      E-mail: rosie.stenhouse@abertay.ac.uk

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Aims and objectives

To understand the experience of being a patient on an acute psychiatric inpatient ward.


Acute psychiatric inpatient care is an integral part of the mental health system. A key driver for admission to acute wards is risk. Previous research indicates that people do not always feel safe when in an acute ward. Understanding the patient experience of safety can influence nursing practice, as well as policy and service development.


A qualitative approach was used. Patient experience was conceptualised as represented through narrative as data. Sociolinguistic theories linking narrative structure with meaning informed the development of the analytic framework.


Thirteen patients with a variety of diagnoses were recruited from an acute ward. Unstructured interviews were carried out in participants' homes two and six weeks postdischarge. Holistic analysis of each individual's data set was undertaken. Themes running across these holistic analyses were then identified and developed.


Participant narratives were focused around themes of help, safety and power. This study presents findings relating to the experience of safety. Participants expected to be safe from themselves and from others. Initially, they experienced a sense of safety from the outside world. Lack of knowledge of their fellow patients made them feel vulnerable. Participants expected the nurses to keep them safe, and felt safer when there were male nurses present.


Participants talk about safety in terms of psychological and physical safety. A key issue was the perception of threat from other patients, highlighting the need to consider patient safety as more than physical safety.

Relevance to practice

Nurses need to be sensitive to the possibility that patients feel unsafe in the absence of obvious threat. Institutional structures that challenge patients' sense of safety must be examined.