About 160 patients go missing from emergency departments in North every month

Police investigate close to 2,000 disappearances annually at cost of £4.8m, new figures show

When a patient receiving treatment leaves an emergency department without telling a staff member they can be reported as missing if they cannot be contacted. Photograph:  PSNI

When a patient receiving treatment leaves an emergency department without telling a staff member they can be reported as missing if they cannot be contacted. Photograph: PSNI

 

About 160 patients go missing from hospital emergency departments (ED) in Northern Ireland every month, with police having to investigate close to 2,000 such disappearances annually at a cost of £4.8 million.

The figures were released by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) as a campaign was launched to reduce the number of people missing from hospital EDs in the North.

The initiative, by the PSNI and the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) is aimed at stopping people leaving emergency departments without telling a member of staff.

When a patient receiving treatment leaves an emergency department without telling a staff member they can be reported as missing if they cannot be contacted and there is ongoing concern for their wellbeing.

The number of patients missing from emergency departments has dropped by 17 per cent since the PSNI and HSCB began collaborating on the issue.

Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally said the “vast majority of ED patients who are reported missing are found safe and well at home” and were “not ‘missing’, they just didn’t tell ED staff they were leaving.”

Reducing the number of missing patients would give hospital staff more time to deal with other patients “rather than trying to find someone who isn’t actually missing”, and would also allow police to prioritise other missing reports where someone is at genuine risk.”

The Director of Commissioning with the HSCB, Paul Cavanagh, said “emergency departments are very busy places and we know people get frustrated if they experience long waits.

“However, it will help keep patients safe and save health care staff time if patients let them know they are choosing to leave before completing their treatment.”

They appealed to patients attending emergency for treatment and who had not been discharged by staff not to leave without telling a member of staff.

“If they do leave an ED department without speaking to staff, they may be treated as a missing person,” Det Chief Supt McNally said.