Data were collected on a six month sample of patients attending a psychiatric emergency walk-in clinic (n=378), based on the clinical impressions of the interviewing doctor. This information was then compared with a hypothetical model emergency service on the following five items: nature of patient problem, severity of problem, diagnosis, referring agent and current contact with psychiatric services. The severity of the perceived threat to the interviewer was recorded. Only 4.7% of referrals conformed to the hypothetical model on all five criteria. The majority of patients referred themselves, and the problems of self-referrals were significantly less severe than those of general practitioner referrals; 17.2% of consultations were perceived by the interviewing doctor as presenting a moderate or severe threat to his or her safety. The findings suggest that such an emergency facility operates as a form of primary care and is therefore inappropriately used. The level of perceived threat to interviewing doctors is unacceptably high.
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