Aggressive behaviour is a critical issue for modern acute psychiatric services, not just because of the adverse impact it has on patients and staff, but also because it puts a financial strain on service providers. The aim of this study was to assess the relationship of patient violence to other variables: patient characteristics, features of the service and physical environment, patient routines, staff factors, the use of containment methods, and other patient behaviours. A multivariate cross sectional design was utilised. Data were collected for a six month period on 136 acute psychiatric wards in 26 NHS Trusts in England. Multilevel modelling was conducted to ascertain those factors most strongly associated with verbal aggression, aggression toward objects, and physical aggression against others. High levels of aggression were associated with a high proportion of patients formally detained under mental health legislation, high patient turnover, alcohol use by patients, ward doors being locked, and higher staffing numbers (especially qualified nurses). The findings suggest that the imposition of restrictions on patients exacerbates the problem of violence, and that alcohol management strategies may be a productive intervention. Insufficient evidence is available to draw conclusions about the nature of the link between staffing numbers and violence.
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