Study reveals hospital care costs for people who self-harm amount to estimated £162 million each year

Our study provides the first detailed account of the immediate costs of self-harm in an English hospital
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Health care costs

In a report published in The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers from the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) have estimated that the hospital care costs for people who self-harm amount to £162 million each year for hospitals in England.The work emphasises the need for effective clinical services and prevention initiatives.

Researchers linked information from a register of people presenting to a large general hospital following self-harm to financial records in order to estimate the economic costs of their medical and psychiatric care while in hospital. They showed that the average cost for each episode of self-harm was £809, with higher costs for adolescents than adults. If such costs apply to all self-harm episodes presenting to hospitals in England, the overall cost to the NHS would reach the £162 million figure each year.

Self-harm by intentional poisoning or self-injury is a very common reason for presentation to hospital, especially in young people. It is often repeated and carries a significant risk of future suicide. Self-harm was included as a key issue in England’s National Suicide Prevention Strategy for the first time this year. Until now very little information has been available on the costs of hospital care for people who self-harm.

Professor Keith Hawton, the senior author of the report and Director of the Centre for Suicide Research based at the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry, said “the findings of this study highlight the need for high quality services for people who self-harm to provide effective medical care and to ensure that patients receive careful psychiatric assessment in order to plan suitable aftercare. The findings also underline the need for large-scale initiatives to prevent self-harm, such as school-based psychological well-being classes and other community programmes aimed at improving emotional health.”

David McDaid, Associate Professorial Research Fellows within PSSRU at LSE, said “Our study provides the first detailed account of the immediate costs of self-harm in an English hospital. Many of these costs are potentially avoidable. In addition to evaluating actions to reduce the initial risk of self-harm, it is vital to increase adherence to NICE guidelines and undertake psychosocial assessments following hospital self-harm presentations in order to improve the chances that people who self-harm receive appropriate ongoing care and support”.


Behind the article

General hospital costs in England of medical and psychiatric care for patients who self-harm: a retrospective analysis” was published in The Lancet Psychiatry on 7 September 2017.

This research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) Oxford and the Department of Health.