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      The effect of using NHS number as the unique identifier for patients who self-harm: a multi-centre descriptive study

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          Processing personal data for research purposes and the requirement of anonymity has been the subject of recent debate. We aimed to determine the proportion of individuals who present to emergency departments with non-fatal suicidal behavior where an NHS number has been successfully traced and to investigate the characteristics of patients associated with non-capture.


          This was a descriptive study of people attending after self-harm using allocation of NHS numbers as main outcome measurement. Data from the Multicentre Monitoring of Self-Harm Project from 3 centres in England were used to identify consecutive patients (N = 3000) who were treated in six emergency departments in Oxford, Manchester and Leeds in 2004 and 2005 following self-harm.


          NHS number was available between 55–73% of individuals across centres. Characteristics associated with non-recording of NHS number in more than one centre included those from ethnic minority groups (Oxford: chi-squared statistic = 13.6, df = 3, p = 0.004; Manchester: chi-squared statistic = 13.6, df = 3, p ≤0.001) and the homeless or living in a hostel or other institution (Oxford: chi-squared statistic = 40.9, df = 7, p = <0.001; Manchester: chi-squared statistic = 23.5, df = 7, p = 0.001). Individual centre characteristics included being of male gender (Leeds: chi-squared statistic = 4.1, df = 1, p = 0.4), those under 25 years (Oxford: chi-squared statistic = 10.6, df = 2, p = 0.005), not being admitted to general hospital (Leeds: chi-squared statistic = 223.6, df = 1, p ≤0.001) and using self-injury as a method of harm (Leeds: chi-squared statistic = 41.5, df = 2, p ≤0.001).


          Basing research studies on NHS number as the unique identifier, as suggested by the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Patient Information Advisory Group, would exclude some of the most vulnerable groups for further self-harm or suicide. This bias may also affect other research registers.

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          Most cited references 12

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          Deliberate self-harm in Oxford, 1990-2000: a time of change in patient characteristics.

          Trends in deliberate self-harm (DSH) are important because they have implications for hospital services, may indicate levels of psychopathology in the community and future trends in suicide, and can assist in identification of means of suicide prevention. We have investigated trends in DSH and characteristics of DSH patients between 1990 and 2000 based on data collected through the Oxford Monitoring System for Attempted Suicide. During the 11-year study period 8590 individuals presented following 13858 DSH episodes. The annual numbers of persons and episodes increased overall by 36.3% and 63.1% respectively. Rates (Oxford City) declined, however, in the final 3 years. There were gender- and age-specific changes, with a rise in DSH rates in males aged > or = 55 years and in females overall and those aged 15-24 years and 35-54 years. Repetition of DSH increased markedly during the study period. Antidepressant overdoses, especially of SSRIs, increased substantially. Paracetamol overdoses declined towards the end of the study period. Alcohol abuse, use of alcohol in association with DSH, and violence increased, especially in females, and the proportion of patients in current psychiatric care and misusing drugs also rose. While overall rates of DSH did not increase markedly between 1990 and 2000, substantial changes in the characteristics of the DSH population and a rise in repetition suggest that the challenges facing clinical services in the management of DSH patients have grown.
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            Trends in mortality from suicide, 1965-99.

            To analyse trends in mortality from suicide over the period 1965-99. Data were derived from the WHO database, including data for 47 countries. In the European Union (EU), all age suicide mortality peaked at 16.1/100,000 in men in 1980-84, and declined thereafter to 14.4/100,000 in 1995-98. In females, the fall was 29% to reach 4.6/100,000. A similar pattern of trends was observed in several eastern European countries. In contrast, mortality from suicide rose substantially in the Russian Federation, from 37.7/100,000 in males in 1985-89 to 58.3/100,000 in 1995-98 (+55%), and to 9.5/100,000 (+12%) in females. In the USA and most other American countries providing data, no consistent pattern was evident for males, but falls were observed in females. Steady declines were registered for Japan, starting from the highest suicide rates worldwide in the late 1950s. Suicide rates were upwards in Ireland, Italy, Spain, the UK, Cuba, Australia and New Zealand. Substantial rises were observed in a few countries (Ireland, Cuba, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand) for young males. In spite of mixed trends, suicide remains a significant public health problem worldwide.
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              Management of deliberate self poisoning in adults in four teaching hospitals: descriptive study.


                Author and article information

                Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health
                Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health : CP & EMH
                BioMed Central
                21 September 2007
                : 3
                : 16
                [1 ]Centre for Suicide Prevention, Division of Psychiatry, 7th Floor Williamson Building, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
                [2 ]Centre for Suicide Research, University of Oxford, Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford OX3 7JX, UK
                [3 ]Academic Unit of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 15 Hyde Terrace, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9LT, UK
                Copyright ©2007 Cooper et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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