Published on March 21, 2013 at 4:41 AM
Satellite navigation technology is being used to track patients on leave from secure mental health units for the first time in the UK.
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust introduced the scheme to prevent patients absconding and offer greater protection to the public.
The trust wanted to promote leave and recovery while at the same time improving the safety of patients on leave from a medium secure unit.
Managers issued staff with a small non-removable global positioning satellite tracking device for patients to wear around the ankle when they take approved leave from the ward.
The device gives the wearer's location to within a few metres and each device is tracked 24 hours a day by an alarm receiving centre. It is fitted using a secure strap which is different to traditional offender tags, which can be removed by cutting with scissors.
Preliminary findings revealed that in the first two years of use, the number of leave incidents fell by 75 per cent.
In the year before GP tracking was introduced (2009/2010) there were 11 abscondings and ten failures to return; this fell to three absconding and 13 failures to return during the first year of GPS use, 2010/2011, and zero absconding and five failures to return in 2011/2012.
As a result, the amount of leave granted to patients has been increased and protection of the public has been maintained.