Primary care clinical management following self-harm during the first wave of COVID-19 in the UK

Sarah Steeg, Matthew J Carr, Laszlo Trefan, Darren M Ashcroft, Nav Kapur, Emma Nielsen, Brian McMillan, Roger T Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background A substantial reduction in GP-recorded self-harm occurred during the first wave of COVID-19 but effects on primary care management of self-harm are unknown.

Aim To examine the impact of COVID-19 on clinical management within three months of an episode of self-harm.

Design and setting Prospective cohort study using data from the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink.

Method We compared cohorts of patients with an index self-harm episode recorded during a pre-pandemic period (10th March-10th June, 2010-2019) versus the COVID-19 first-wave period (10th March-10th June 2020). Patients were followed up for three months to capture psychotropic medication prescribing, GP/practice nurse consultation and referral to mental health services.

Results 48,739 episodes of self-harm were recorded during the pre-pandemic period and 4,238 during the first-wave COVID-19 period. Similar proportions were prescribed psychotropic medication within 3 months in the pre-pandemic (54.0%) and COVID-19 first-wave (54.9%) cohorts. Likelihood of having at least one GP/practice nurse consultation was broadly similar (83.2% vs. 80.3% in the COVID-19 cohort). The proportion of patients referred to mental health services in the COVID-19 cohort (3.4%) was around half of that in the pre-pandemic cohort (6.5%).

Conclusion Despite the challenges experienced by primary healthcare teams during the initial COVID-19 wave, prescribing and consultation patterns following self-harm were broadly similar to pre-pandemic levels. However, the reduced likelihood of referral to mental health services warrants attention. Accessible outpatient and community services for people who have self-harmed are required as the COVID-19 crisis recedes and the population faces new challenges to mental health.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2021


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