hospital Hospital treatment remains a postcode lottery for people who overdose or self-harm, with 40% of those treated not receiving a specialist psychosocial assessment, researchers have found.

In addition, hospital management of patients who self-harm in England has barely changed in the past 10 years despite the introduction of clinical guidelines, according to the study by researchers from The University of Manchester.

The researchers looked at 6,442 individuals who presented at 32 hospitals with 7,689 episodes of self-harm over a three-month period and investigated how people were treated and followed up.  They also measured the quality of self-harm services using a 21-item measure. The team compared their results with a survey carried out in 2001. 

Dr Jayne Cooper, from the University’s Centre for Suicide Prevention, and who led the study, said: “Hospitals varied markedly in their management of self-harm. The proportion of episodes that received a psychosocial assessment in line with national guidance varied from 22% in some hospitals to 88% in others. Overall we found the level of assessment had remained more or less static over the last 10 years.”

But the study did show some evidence that the quality of health services for patients who self-harmed may have improved, she added.

The study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research and published in the online journal BMJ Open, provides the most detailed information on services for self-harm available nationally.

Professor Nav Kapur, senior author for the study, honorary consultant in psychiatry at Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust and chair of the recent National Institute for Health and Care Excellence self-harm guideline, said: “We were surprised to find that despite national guidelines and policy initiatives, the management of self-harm in English hospitals is as variable as ever. This is important because the treatment patients get in hospital affects their outcome. 

“It remains to be seen how the more recent guidance and the linked quality standards for self-harm services will impact on care. Hopefully, people who self-harm will increasingly get the assessment and treatment they need.”