The idea behind the awareness campaign is to stop patients from leaving the ED without telling a member of ED staff.
Involving the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Health & Social Care Board (HSCB), the initiative will run across all emergency departments.
Currently, when an ED patient, who is receiving treatment, leaves without telling a staff member they can be reported as missing, if they are otherwise not contactable and there is ongoing concern for their wellbeing.
Each month, around 160 missing ED patients are reported to police; close to 2,000 annually.
Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally said: “If we can reduce the number of missing person reports to PSNI from EDs this will have a significant number of societal benefits. ED staff will have more time to deal with other patients rather than spend time trying to find someone who isn’t actually missing.
“It will mean the Police Service can prioritise dealing with other missing reports where someone is genuinely at risk of harm. It will also allow us to deal with other policing priorities. Financially, it’s estimated that searching for the 160 persons who go missing from EDS every month costs the Police Service £4.8 million pounds per year.”
Paul Cavanagh, Director of Commissioning, Health and Social Care Board said: “Emergency departments are very busy places and we know people get frustrated if they experience long waits. However, it will help keep patients safe and save health care staff time if patients let them know they are choosing to leave before completing their treatment.”
Since the Police Service and Health and Social Care began working together on the issue, the number of EDs patients reported missing to police has dropped by 17%.
Detective Chief Superintendent McNally said: “The vast majority of ED patients who are reported missing are found safe and well at home. They were not ‘missing’, they just didn’t tell the ED staff they were leaving.” Detective Chief Superintendent McNally added: “We want anyone attending ED to know that not only are they potentially putting their own safety at risk by not waiting for the treatment they may need, but they are also taking up valuable time of ED and police resources. That means other patients, and people who need police or medical assistance, may not be getting those services as quickly as they could.
“We hope this public awareness campaign will encourage ED patients receiving treatment to think twice before leaving the hospital without telling a staff member.
“My appeal to the public is, and to anyone attending ED for treatment, either by themselves or with a family member, if you are not discharged by ED staff, please do not leave without telling a member of staff. Please pass this message to your friends and family and remind them that if they do leave an ED department without speaking to staff, they may be treated as a missing person. Help us keep you safe.”