Advanced paramedics' restraint decisionmaking when managing acute behavioural disturbance (ABD) in the UK pre-hospital ambulance setting: A qualitative investigation

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Acute behavioural disturbance (ABD), sometimes called 'excited delirium', is a medical emergency. In the UK, some patients presenting with ABD are managed by advanced paramedics (APs), however little is known about how APs make restraint decisions. The aim of this research is to explore the decisions made by APs when managing restraint in the context of ABD, in the UK pre-hospital ambulance setting. Seven semi-structured interviews were undertaken with APs. All participants were experienced APs with post-registration, post-graduate advanced practice education and qualifications. The resulting data were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis, informed by critical realism. We identified four interconnected themes from the interview data. Firstly, managing complexity and ambiguity in relation to identifying ABD patients and determining appropriate treatment plans. Secondly, feeling vulnerable to professional consequences from patients deteriorating whilst in the care of APs. Thirdly, negotiating with other professionals who have different roles and priorities. Finally, establishing primacy of care in relation to incidents which involve police officers and other professionals. A key influence was the need to characterise incidents as medical, as an enabler to establishing clinical leadership and decisionmaking control. APs focused on de-escalation techniques and sought to reduce physical restraint, intervening with pharmacological interventions if necessary to achieve this. The social relationships and interactions with patients and other professionals at the scene were key to success. Decisions are a source of anxiety, with fears of professional detriment accompanying poor patient outcomes. Our results indicate that APs would benefit from education and development specifically in relation to making ABD decisions, acknowledging the context of inter-professional relationships and the potential for competing and conflicting priorities. A focus on joint, high-fidelity training with the police may be a helpful intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0302524
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2024

Data Availability Statement

Data are available via the University of Bath Research Data Archive and are available to researchers on application via: Lindridge, J., Edwards, T., Blackwood, L., 2024. Dataset for "Advanced paramedics' restraint decision-making when managing acute behavioural disturbance (ABD): A UK based qualitative investigation.". Bath: University of Bath Research Data Archive.


We would like to thank all our study participants for their time and contributions.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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