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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 10:11 GMT
Supervised self-harm plan praised
Woman in silhouette
Women are most likely to self-harm
Patients who self-harm are being allowed to do so under supervision in hospital in an innovative scheme.

The practice is being allowed as part of a six-month investigation into the care of people who self-harm at St George's Hospital, Stafford.

Patients are allowed to carry on cutting themselves, but are also offered substitutes such as holding ice cubes or wearing tight elastic bands.

Mental health experts welcomed the scheme, Nursing Standard reported.

People who self-harm, who are mainly women, do so as a way of coping with a deep rooted problem. It is often used by people who have been abused.

Around 100,000 A&E consultations each year are linked to self-harm. Experts say many more people may be practising the technique in secret.

Infection advice

Traditional treatment techniques have involved confiscating implements such as knives or razors, or preventing people from self-harming.

But nurse Chris Holley, who is running the St George's project, says taking away someone's ability to self-harm takes away their method of coping, increasing traumatic feelings - and potentially increasing the risk that they will attempt suicide.

She outlined the scheme at the Royal College of Nursing European Mental Health conference in Belfast last week.

Ms Holley said the team of staff talk to each patient about where, when and how they injure themselves, in addition to offering them psychotherapy.

Patients are not given knives or razors, but are allowed to continue injuring themselves if they are already using those methods.

They may also be offered ice cubes - said to give the same sensation as cutting - or elastic bands which they can flick or wear tightly around their wrists.

Patients are also given advice on how to avoid becoming infected through their cuts.

She said: "We have a duty of care, but there is a difference between that and taking a Big Brother approach."

The Department of Health is currently carrying out a consultation exercise to look at women's mental health.

Its existing policy already advises a "harm minimisation" approach, rather than one which looks at "exclusive prevention".

Jo Lochrane, of the mental health charity Rethink, said: "This is a really innovative way of trying to deal with what can be a very difficult issue.

"Someone who self-harms is like someone who is addicted to alcohol.

"It's their way of coping and dealing with their feelings.

"You can't take that away and leave people with nothing."

She said such a scheme would also help bring a very secretive practice out into the open - perhaps helping people to deal with why they self-harm.

Cognitive behavioural therapy, which aims to change the way people behave in response to certain triggers, and other talking therapies, are also used to help people who self-harm.

Website support for self-harmers
15 Nov 05 |  Suffolk
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