Northern Ireland

Antrim hospital pilots emergency mental health scheme

Distressed woman with head in hands Image copyright PA
Image caption The new rapid assessment scheme aims to identify mental health problems at an early stage

An increasing number of people are turning up at emergency departments with mental health problems.

A new scheme in Northern Ireland is attempting to tackle the issue in order to save lives.

Figures from the Public Health Agency show that from March 2012 to April 2015, the number of people turning up at EDs with self-harm injuries increased by 11% from 5,977 to 6,630.

The majority were young people aged between 15 and 24.

At Antrim Area Hospital, physical and mental health specialists are working as a team to ensure vulnerable men and women are detected and are offered treatment quickly.

It is hoped that RAID - or Rapid Assessment Interface Discharge - will be rolled out across all the health trusts.

Alan is a patient who has been helped by the scheme.

Late on a Friday evening, he was brought by the police to Antrim's ED in a distressed state.

They had found him in his car desperately needing medical assistance.

Image caption Dr Uzma Huda says mental health needs can be overlooked

When he arrived at the ED, surrounded by people with flu and broken limbs, his mental health issues could easily have gone undetected.

"I just felt really down, I was suicidal and was going to end my life," he said.

Instead, within two hours, Alan was seen by a mental health specialist who is part of the RAID team.

A programme was put in place which included medication and counselling, and contact was made with his GP.

This package of care not only saved his life but ensured ongoing support when he was discharged several hours later. He says this was key:

"It's extremely important. Without it, I may not have come back."

Dr Uzma Huda, a consultant psychiatrist who is part of the 24-hour emergency team, said: "We need to have parity of physical and mental health because people's mental health needs quite often are overlooked when ever they come to a physical health setting like an acute hospital.

"So if you have depression and it has been overlooked but the nursing staff in the acute wards are picking that up, the RAID team can come, see you, start you on treatment, liaise with your GP and that starts you on a journey to recovery."

According to clinicians in Antrim, the RAID scheme means they are preventing a majority of men and women who are at risk from mental health problems from slipping through the net.

Care package

One woman, who asked the BBC to protect her identity, said the scheme meant the right care package was in place for her elderly mother who had been admitted with delayed-onset delirium.

The team ensured a care package was also available in the community once she was discharged.

"It meant she was seen very quickly, diagnosed very quickly, and there were links made within the hospital in order to get her a very quick package of care so that she was able to return home the next day," said the daughter.

While the number of mental health referrals has increased, so too has the pace of people being discharged from hospital - people who should not have been admitted in the first place.

That means they are being cared from at home in the community instead of being in a hospital setting.

Image caption John Dickson says the scheme means a better outcome for the patient

John Dickson, operations manager with the RAID service, explained the concept behind the scheme.

"Early diagnosis and treatment means a shorter stay for the patient, fewer bed days for the hospital and a better outcome ultimately for the patient," he said.

Staff are hailing this scheme as a success. While it does require additional funding, they say it is saving the health service money in the long run as prevention is keeping vulnerable people out of a long stay in hospital.

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