The surgical management of patients who deliberately self-harm

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Deliberate self-harm is a common problem that often requires orthopaedic treatment. Patients with injuries due to deliberate self-harm are often referred to our unit. This study assessed the type of treatment required and the cost of treatment.


We undertook a retrospective survey of deliberate self-harm patients with known ICD-10 psychiatric disorders admitted for orthopaedic care from a medium-secure, female-only, psychiatric unit. Data were collected on admission rate, duration of stay, surgical interventions and complications.


Over a 36-month period there were 73 admissions for 15 patients (mean age, 25.1 years) requiring 65 operative interventions, a mean of 4.3 (range, 0–9) per patient. Over 50% of patients were admitted more than 3 times, totalling 416 hospital bed-days and 80% had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) isolated. The orthopaedic treatment costs for these patients was £453,000 during the period studied.


The significant resources required to manage this patient cohort demonstrates the need for a co-ordinated management policy. We recommend day-case surgery for infected wounds only. Postoperatively, wounds should be protected with plaster of Paris. All patients with deliberate self-harm should be regarded as being infected with MRSA.

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