Length of hospitalisation for people with severe mental illness

Nisreen Alwan*, Paul Johnstone, Gabriella Zolese

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In high income countries, over the last three decades, the length of hospital stays for people with serious mental illness has reduced drastically. Some argue that this reduction has led to revolving door admissions and worsening mental health outcomes despite apparent cost savings, whilst others suggest longer stays may be more harmful by institutionalising people to hospital care. Objectives: To determine the clinical and service outcomes of planned short stay admission policies versus a long or standard stay for people with serious mental illnesses. Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group's register of trials (July 2007). Selection criteria: We included all randomised trials comparing planned short with long/standard hospital stays for people with serious mental illnesses. Data collection and analysis: We extracted data independently. For dichotomous data we calculated relative risks (RR) and their 95%confidence intervals (CI) on an intention-to-treat basis based on a fixed effects model. We calculated numbers needed to treat/harm (NNT/NNH) where appropriate. For continuous data, we calculated fixed effects weighted mean differences (WMD). Main results: We included six relevant trials. We found no significant difference in hospital readmissions between planned short stays and standard care at one year (n=651, 4 RCTs, RR 1.26 CI 1.0 to 1.6). Short hospital stay did not confer any benefit in terms of 'loss to follow up compared with standard care (n=453, 3 RCTs, RR 0.87 CI 0.7 to 1.1). There were no significant differences for the outcome of 'leaving hospital prematurely' (n=229, 2 RCTs, RR 0.77 CI 0.3 to 1.8). More post-discharge day care was given to participants in the short stay group (n=247, 1 RCT, RR 4.52 CI 2.7 to 7.5, NNH 3 CI 2 to 6) and people from the short stay groups were more likely to be employed at two years (n=330, 2 RCTs, RR 0.61 CI 0.5 to 0.8, NNT 5 CI 4 to 8). Economic data were few but, once discharged, costs may be more for those allocated to an initial short stay. Authors' conclusions: The effects of hospital care and the length of stay is important for mental health policy. We found limited data, although outcomes do suggest that a planned short stay policy does not encourage a 'revolving door' pattern of admission and disjointed care for people with serious mental illness. More large, well-designed and reported trials are justified.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD000384
JournalThe Cochrane database of systematic reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • *Length of stay
  • Hospitalization [statistics & numerical data]
  • Humans
  • Institutionalization
  • Mental disorders [*rehabilitation]
  • Patient read-mission [statistics & numerical data]
  • Randomized controlled trials as topic


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