Crisis Resolution Teams (CRTs, also known as Home Treatment Teams, although they’re not quite the same thing) are ubiquitous, and since the 2000 NHS Plan, mandated in the UK. Wherever you live, there’s a dedicated team covering your area, but there ends the certainty. Whilst the Royal College of Psychiatrists runs a Home Treatment accreditation scheme (HTAS), certification is not necessary, and besides, it (intentionally) leaves wide-room for local interpretation. Does your team open 24 hours a day, or just until late evening? Do they provide care for individuals with substance misuse problems, formal psychoeducation on antipsychotics, or any specific interventions for those who self-harm or have accommodation issues? It’s left to services to try best-match local needs with staff skill mixes.
Of course, as a CRT Consultant I would (and do) reverse the argument: what should we do? What works? Problematically (for me), a commissioner might pose the same question: why should we fund you, or fund you in your current form? Therein lies the key problem in crisis care: a lack of good clinical data.
The backdrop is their original design and intent (Carpenter et al 2013): ‘gatekeepers’ intended to reduce admission rates and durations, with an unspoken expectation that ‘good’ would be somehow contained within. Far more so than in 2000 when this was first established, we live in a time of bed crises: 2017 has already seen this as almost consistent headline news. So, it’s not an unreasonable starting point to have a team mandated with helping to resolve this. However, it sets up a clinical, management, and academic conversation that has spinning wheels as its focus: crisis teams, crisis teams, hey-hey-hey, how many admissions did you avoid today?
What has been lost? Care. I have no doubt crisis teams provide great care to many people, and are usually staffed by individuals who want to do their best, but we fumble along trying to figure out just what that is. A couple of years ago, my then-MSc student Becci Carpenter undertook a qualitative exploration (Carpenter & Tracy, 2015), of CRT patient hopes and expectations, and their language was of ‘compassion’, ‘support’, and ‘helping me look after myself’. Nothing about gatekeeping. It has preoccupied me since how we might better understand the ‘treatment’ somehow contained within home treatment teams.
Into this comes a timely paper by Werbellof et al (2017) in the Lancet Psychiatry, exploring the clinical factors that impacted on outcomes in crisis services across two large mental health Trusts in London.
Accessing the routinely collected electronic records of individuals who utilised Crisis Resolution Teams in these Trusts (covering a population of just under one and a half million) between 2008 and 2014, they identified over 17,500 patient contacts. Their sociodemographic and clinical details and subsequent engagement with crisis services (inpatient admission, CRTs, and crisis houses) were explored, with a view to understanding patient baseline characteristics, and factors that affected outcomes. Univariate and multivariable Cox regression models estimated hazard ratios for time to admission, controlling for year and team of index CRT episode.
- Patients had a mean age of about 40 during their index Crisis Resolution Team episode, and in the year after CRT care, the rate of return to crisis services was 50 per hundred person-years. However, the richness lies in the analysis beneath
- Those with non-affective psychotic disorders and individuals over 65 had greater such use, as had those with the highest-tertile HoNOS scores – namely those who were more unwell
- Anxiety disorders, first CRT contact patients, and longer duration of CRT care had reduced use
- Individuals of Black ethnic origin and those who were unmarried were more likely to have readmissions, but interestingly, against one’s clinical expectations, social deprivation per se was not associated with subsequent outcomes.
- Clinical and sociodemographic factors impact on Crisis Resolution Team outcomes. We always knew this, and now we can show it
- The type of problem one has, impacts on the success or otherwise of CRT care
- These data should facilitate CRT service reflection in terms of supporting or perhaps upending anecdotal team wisdom. Are there some individuals who might need more input or monitoring than we imagine, or some who we might be able to pass on to other services more comfortably?
Strengths and limitations
The main strength of the work is its size. Almost 18,000 patient contacts evaluated means that it dwarfs (Ed: did you have to mention them!?) other work on Crisis Resolution Teams. Further, we now have clinical data associated with outcomes. The work takes us past simplistic admission duration and Mental Health Act detention figures.
The data are limited to two NHS Trusts, both in London, so the model of care (a UK CRT) and the population (London typically being a very heterogeneous and multicultural mix) may not map onto other areas. That said, the findings are primarily related to clinical factors, which helps instill confidence about how generalisable they are.
The main limitations are, from my perspective, unfixable ones in its current form. It’s a retrospective analysis; outcomes are somewhat crude (tracking ‘readmission’, so back to the old problem of missing ‘care’); and we cannot link what clinical input(s) are helping or not (for example, is it time with a key-worker, medication monitoring, psychological support). Of course, the authors do not set out or claim to do this, but the paper self-invites these next steps.
Werbeloff et al’s work is doubly helpful. ‘Big data’ may be an annoying phrase by this point, but we are in the era of large-scale evaluations: the golden era of more classical randomised controlled trials may have past, replaced by such data-sets, complete with lots of rich noise to unpick. It is pleasing to see this style of work be applied to crisis care. Secondly, clinical markers are emerging: what works and for whom? We’re starting to evidence this. Clearly, much more, and more sophisticated, work in the field is necessary, but a flag has been planted in the sand.
2017 promises to be a good time for crisis care. University College London’s Crisis Team Optimisation and Relapse Prevention (CORE) programme, led by Professor Sonia Johnson, is producing more data (Lloyd-Evans et al, 2016) on factors that lead to higher quality care. The National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health is working with the Royal College of Psychiatrists and NICE to produce guidelines on achieving better access to crisis care (disclosure: I sit on the Expert Reference Group helping draw these up). We have heretofore lacked both standards, and the teeth to enforce them, but this should change: not only will there be national guidance on what one might expect in a crisis, but data will be published and benchmarked. Service users, carers and relatives, and CRT staff should be able to work together with this; where a service is not achieving expectations (often due to resources, not good will), everyone should be asking for, and expecting more from commissioners.
Some next steps that need to happen:
- The routine recording of patient outcome and experience measurements (PROMs and PREMs) needs much greater consistency within and across teams, with evaluation of who gets better, who does not, and consideration of why this might be happening
- More sophisticated work would digitize this, link with inputs (nursing, medical, psychology, social work etc), and try to refine resources
- This doesn’t need large scale academic centres: local teams can and should undertake this.
Can we really bottle sunshine, and ever find out how to quantitatively measure ‘care’? I’m not sure we ever have to; we just need to remember that it is usually the magic that matters, and should centre our clinical practice.
Conflict of interest
Derek Tracy is on the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH) Expert Reference Group currently determining national standards for accessing crisis care.
Werbeloff N, Chang C-K, Broadbent M, Hayes JF, Stewart R, Osborn DPJ. (2016) Admission to acute mental health services after contact with crisis resolution and home treatment teams: an investigation in two large mental health-care providers. Lancet Psychiatry 2016; published online Dec 12. [Abstract]
Carpenter RA, Falkenburg J, White T, Tracy DK. (2013) Crisis teams: systematic review of their effectiveness in practice. Br J Psych Bull 2013; 37: 232–37.
Carpenter RA, Tracy DK. (2015) Home treatment teams: what should they do? A qualitative study of patient opinions. J Ment Health 2015; 24: 98–102. [PubMed abstract]
Johnson S, Nolan F, Piling S, et al. (2005) Randomised controlled trial of acute mental health care by a crisis resolution team: the north Islington crisis study. BMJ 2005; 331: 599.
Lloyd-Evans B, Bond GR, Ruud T, et al. (2016) Development of a measure of model fidelity for mental health crisis resolution teams. BMC Psychiatry 2016; 16: 427.
Royal College of Psychiatrists. Home Treatment Accreditation Scheme (HTAS) standards for home treatment teams (2nd edition). Website last accessed, 16 Jan 2017.
Tracy DK. What is good crisis care. Lancet Psychiatry, 2017; 4(1):5-6.
As a SU I’ve have yet to find the right care from my current crisis team. Not because the staff don’t want to provide it. The reason I’m referred to their team is lack of alternatives – there is no bed. No way is their service and adequate alternative to admission. they cannot be there 24 hours a day – that’s not their function. Indeed they make it clear they can’t even be there for me every day. They email me a care plan to which I’ve had no input which make the staff and myself feel like ‘we’re working in a straitjacket’. If there’s any concern for my wellbeing and I’ve had my weekly phone call they cannot call me back.
I’m classed as complex needs. I honestly don’t try to be difficult but I’m left thinking that many of the CRHTT do not have the right level of skills to help me. The many agency staff probably don’t especially care. I’m frequently told that the team is too busy to visit, phone me back or continue with a call. The psychaitric liaison team make a discharge plan which the crisis team ignore.
I would like to feel that the person on the end of the phone does indeed care whether I die or not, that they don’t have an attitude problem towards my perceived diagnosis. My team was reorganised a few years ago and up to that point generally I was happy with the response I got not now.
I know many local people who refuse to use their crisis team but where else do you go? I wrote this on my blog recently If nothing read my wish list at the beginning