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Acute Day Units for mental health crises: A qualitative study of service user and staff views and experiences

By Nicola Morant, Michael Davidson, Jane Wackett, Danielle Lamb, Vanessa Pinfold, Deb Smith, Sonia Johnson, Brynmor Lloyd-Evans, David Osborn

Posted 23 Nov 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.11.20.20235374

BackgroundAcute Day Units (ADUs) provide intensive, non-residential, short-term treatment for adults in mental health crisis. They currently exist in approximately 30% of health localities in England, but there is little research into their functioning or effectiveness, and how this form of crisis care is experienced by service users. This qualitative study explores the views and experiences of stakeholders who use and work in ADUs. MethodsWe conducted 36 semi-structured interviews with service users, staff and carers at four ADUs in England. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. ResultsBoth service users and staff provided generally positive accounts of using or working in ADUs. Valued features were structured programmes that provide routine, meaningful group activities, and opportunities for peer contact and emotional, practical and peer support, within a safe environment. Aspects of ADU care were often described as enabling personal and social connections that contribute to shifting from crisis to recovery. ADUs were compared favourably to other forms of home- and hospital-based acute care, particularly in providing more therapeutic input and social contact. Some service users and staff thought ADU lengths of stay should be extended slightly, and staff described some ADUs being under-utilised or poorly-understood by referrers in local acute care systems. ConclusionsMulti-site qualitative data suggests that ADUs provide a distinctive and valued contribution to acute care systems, and can avoid known problems associated with other forms of acute care, such as low user satisfaction, stressful ward environments, and little therapeutic input or positive peer contact. Findings suggest there may be grounds for recommending further development and more widespread implementation of ADUs to increase choice within local acute care systems.

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