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Background: psychiatric intensive care facilities have previously been poorly defined, with uncertainty existing about the appropriateness of admissions. aim: to offer the first large-scale systematic survey describing the clinical characteristics of patients admitted to psychiatric intensive care units. method: a questionnaire was sent to ward managers of every psychiatric intensive care unit in london for completion on a chosen census day. individual demographic and clinical patient characteristics were collected, along with admission and discharge pathways. results: of 186 patients on 17 nhs picus in london, we obtained data for 172. 80% of patients were male, with a mean age of 33; 50% were black and all but 2 were involuntarily detained. 66% had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and 55% of admissions were due to physical aggression. 73% of the sample had at least one ‘complex need’, which was most commonly substance misuse. black patients were younger, more likely to be male and to have a forensic history (54% vs. 31%) than white patients. a slightly lower percentage (70% vs. 79%) of black patients were described as having complex needs. white patients were more likely to have a personality disorder or a second diagnosis. conclusions: patients admitted to psychiatric intensive care units were most likely to have major psychosis, complex needs and to use illicit substances. ethnic variations warrant further study. declaration of interest: the project was partly funded by the department of health. © 2005, napicu. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Psychiatric Intensive Care

Publication Date





17 - 24