Background There is often little guidance to advise general practitioners on whether a referral to a community mental health team should be classified as ‘urgent’ or not.
Aims (1) To identify the proportion and appropriateness of referrals considered urgent by the referrer; (2) To develop a set of criteria to guide what should constitute an ‘urgent’ referral.
Methods One hundred consecutive referral letters to a community mental health team were analysed to determine the proportion that were considered urgent by the referrer compared to a consensus panel of psychiatrists. A Delphi group was then used to develop a set of criteria to guide referrers as to what should be regarded as an urgent referral.
Results Thirty-three percent of referrals were deemed urgent by the referrer, compared to 17% by the psychiatric consensus panel, with little agreement between the two (kappa = 0.021, P = 0.013). Referrals that were made using a single assessment process (SAP) form were significantly more likely to be inappropriately marked as being urgent (P < 0.001). A set of 12 criteria was developed using the Delphi technique.
Conclusions There was significant disagreement between the referrers and the assessing team as to which referrals required urgent attention. The findings justified the creation of guidelines, and this paper outlines a set of 12 criteria to guide what should prompt an urgent referral.