Risk assessment and absconding: perceptions, understandings and responses of mental health nurses

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Grotto, Jessica
Gerace, Adam
O'Kane, Deb
Simpson, Alan
Oster, Candice
Muir-Cochrane, Eimear Caitlin
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John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
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John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Aims and objectives This paper reports mental health nurses' perspectives of absconding. The aims of the study were to explore nurses' perceptions of risk assessment and management practices regarding absconding from acute inpatient psychiatric settings, and their affective responses when patients absconded. Background Nurses are directly involved in managing the risk of patients leaving hospital while acutely unwell, as well as dealing with the implications of an absconding event. However, despite their key role, few studies have explored nurses' perceptions of absconding. Design An interpretive inquiry was undertaken using a systematic thematic approach. Methods Mental health nurses (n = 11) from three acute inpatient mental health units in Australia took part in semi-structured interviews, with a focus on the nurses' experiences of working with patients who had absconded. Data were analysed using systematic thematic coding procedures. Results Nurses' assessment of a patient's risk of absconding involved the use of clinical judgement, focusing on markers of absconding including the patient's history and clinical presentation. The acuity of the perceived risk determined the type of risk management strategy implemented, which could include support, observation and/or the use of containment procedures. Nurses responded with a myriad of affective reactions when patients absconded depending on their assessment of the patient's risk. Conclusions Support and debriefing is required for mental health nurses following an absconding event. Additional research is vital to identify alternative absconding assessment and management strategies to ensure the best possible outcome for patients and nurses. Relevance to clinical practice Mental health nurses play a central role in risk assessment and management for absconding, with fear of repercussions a significant consequence for them. This research highlights the importance of both clinical judgment and standardised instruments in assessing absconding risk. Further research is needed to identify alternative evidence-based absconding management strategies to support nursing practice.
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Grotto, J., Gerace, A., O'Kane, D., Simpson, A., Oster, C. and Muir-Cochrane, E. (2015), Risk assessment and absconding: perceptions, understandings and responses of mental health nurses. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 24: 855–865. doi: 10.1111/jocn.12671