The inpatient environments in psychiatric units are not always conducive to patients' recovery. Male patients can easily feel bored especially when they are not interested in indoor activities like arts and crafts. Outdoor activities were little explored in our psychiatric intensive care unit and partly this may reflect a 'risk averse' approach. Like a pressure cooker, the patients' anger and frustration build up and unfortunately they may lash out on staff and other patients placing them at risk. The incidents of violence and aggression in our unit rose to 482 in 2011.
The Blackpool zoo was close to our unit and it was felt that our patients may benefit a weekly trip to the zoo. Other activities like computer and gym sessions were maintained. Although there were initial reluctance and anxiety amongst staff to escort patients outside the unit, regular support and encouragement made them more confident and less risk averse. Our patients provided lots of positive feedback and felt better equipped to 'fit in' with their community after discharge. The initial discrimination against our patients at the zoo slowly transformed into partnership working and the authorities at the zoo have offered a training programme for our patients on animal care and hygiene. Over a period of 12 months, the incidence of aggression and violence in the ward reduced to 126. The average length of stay reduced by about 50%. We also discharged patients who recovered remarkably well, directly from the unit rather than stepping down to acute wards. Staff motivation and enthusiasm continued to improve and this was reflected in the reduction in staff sickness rates by more than 50%. Student nurses and doctors were able to understand the positive aspects of patients' lives and skills and felt able to boost their hope and determination.
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