Development and evaluation of a de-escalation training intervention in adult acute and forensic units: the EDITION systematic review and feasibility trial

Owen Price, Cat Papastavrou Brooks, Isobel Johnston, Peter McPherson, Helena Goodman, Andrew Grundy, Lindsey Cree, Zahra Motala, Jade Robinson, Michael Doyle, Nicholas Stokes, Christopher J. Armitage, Elizabeth Barley, Helen Brooks, Patrick Callaghan, Lesley Anne Carter, Linda M. Davies, Richard J. Drake, Karina Lovell, Penny Bee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Containment (e.g. physical restraint and seclusion) is used frequently in mental health inpatient settings. Containment is associated with serious psychological and physical harms. De-escalation (psychosocial techniques to manage distress without containment) is recommended to manage aggression and other unsafe behaviours, for example self-harm. All National Health Service staff are trained in de-escalation but there is little to no evidence supporting training’s effectiveness. Objectives: Objectives were to: (1) qualitatively investigate de-escalation and identify barriers and facilitators to use across the range of adult acute and forensic mental health inpatient settings; (2) co-produce with relevant stakeholders an intervention to enhance de-escalation across these settings; (3) evaluate the intervention’s preliminary effect on rates of conflict (e.g. violence, self-harm) and containment (e.g. seclusion and physical restraint) and understand barriers and facilitators to intervention effects. Design: Intervention development informed by Experience-based Co-design and uncontrolled pre and post feasibility evaluation. Systematic reviews and qualitative interviews investigated contextual variation in use and effects of de-escalation. Synthesis of this evidence informed co-design of an intervention to enhance de-escalation. An uncontrolled feasibility trial of the intervention followed. Clinical outcome data were collected over 24 weeks including an 8-week pre-intervention phase, an 8-week embedding and an 8-week post-intervention phase. Setting: Ten inpatient wards (including acute, psychiatric intensive care, low, medium and high secure forensic) in two United Kingdom mental health trusts. Participants: In-patients, clinical staff, managers, carers/relatives and training staff in the target settings. Interventions: Enhancing de-escalation techniques in adult acute and forensic units: Development and evaluation of an evidence-based training intervention (EDITION) interventions included de-escalation training, two novel models of reflective practice, post-incident debriefing and feedback on clinical practice, collaborative prescribing and ward rounds, practice changes around admission, shift handovers and the social and physical environment, and sensory modulation and support planning to reduce patient distress. Main outcome measures: Outcomes measured related to feasibility (recruitment and retention, completion of outcome measures), training outcomes and clinical and safety outcomes. Conflict and containment rates were measured via the Patient–Staff Conflict Checklist. Clinical outcomes were measured using the Attitudes to Containment Measures Questionnaire, Attitudes to Personality Disorder Questionnaire, Violence Prevention Climate Scale, Capabilities, Opportunities, and Motivation Scale, Coercion Experience Scale and Perceived Expressed Emotion in Staff Scale. Results: Completion rates of the proposed primary outcome were very good at 68% overall (excluding remote data collection), which increased to 76% (excluding remote data collection) in the post-intervention period. Secondary outcomes had high completion rates for both staff and patient respondents. Regression analyses indicated that reductions in conflict and containment were both predicted by study phase (pre, embedding, post intervention). There were no adverse events or serious adverse events related to the intervention. Conclusions: Intervention and data-collection procedures were feasible, and there was a signal of an effect on the proposed primary outcome. Limitations: Uncontrolled design and self-selecting sample. Future work: Definitive trial determining intervention effects. Trial registration: This trial is registered as ISRCTN12826685 (closed to recruitment). Funding: This award was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme (NIHR award ref: 16/101/02) and is published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 28, No. 3. See the NIHR Funding and Awards website for further award information. Context: Conflict (a term used to describe a range of potentially unsafe events including violence, self-harm, rule-breaking, medication refusal, illicit drug and alcohol use and absconding) in mental health settings causes serious physical and psychological harm. Containment interventions which are intended to minimise harm from violence (and other conflict behaviours) such as restraint, seclusion and rapid tranquilisation can result in serious injuries to patients and, occasionally, death. Involvement in physical restraint is the most common cause of serious physical injury to National Health Service mental health staff in the United Kingdom. Violence to staff results in substantial costs to the health service in sickness and litigation payments. Containment interventions are also expensive (e.g. physical restraint costs mental health services £6.1 million and enhanced observations £88 million per annum). Despite these harms, recent findings indicate containment interventions such as seclusion and physical restraint continue to be used frequently in mental health settings. Clinical trials have demonstrated that interventions can reduce containment without increasing violence and other conflict behaviours (e.g. verbal aggression, self-harm). Substantial cost-savings result from reducing containment use. De-escalation, as an intervention to manage aggression and potential violence without restrictive practices, is a core intervention. ‘De-escalation’ is a collective term for a range of psychosocial techniques designed to reduce distress and anger without the need to use ‘containment’ interventions (measures to prevent harm through restricting a person’s ability to act independently, such as physical restraint and seclusion). Evidence indicates that de-escalation involves ensuring conditions for safe intervention and effective communication are established, clarifying and attempting to resolve the patient’s concern, conveyance of respect and empathy and regulating unhelpful emotions such as anxiety and anger. Despite featuring prominently in clinical guidelines and training policy domestically and internationally and being a component of mandatory National Health Service training, there is no evidence-based model on which to base training. A systematic review of de-escalation training effectiveness and acceptability conducted in 2015 concluded: (1) no model of training has demonstrated effectiveness in a sufficiently rigorous evaluation, (2) the theoretical underpinning of evaluated models was often unclear and (3) there has been inadequate investigation of the characteristics of training likely to enhance acceptability and uptake. Despite all National Health Service staff being trained in de-escalation there have been no high-quality trials evaluating the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of training. Feasibility studies are needed to establish whether it is possible to conduct a definitive trial that can determine the clinical, safety and cost-effectiveness of this intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages152
JournalHealth Technology Assessment
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2024

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