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Examining equity in the utilisation of psychiatric inpatient care among patients with severe mental illness (SMI) in Ontario, Canada

de Oliveira C, Mason J,  Jacobs R. BMC Psychiatry. 2021; 21(1):420. Epub 2021 Aug 23. DOI:

Background — Severe mental illness (SMI) comprises a range of chronic and disabling conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other psychoses. Despite affecting a small percentage of the population, these disorders are associated with poor outcomes, further compounded by disparities in access, utilisation, and quality of care. Previous research indicates there is pro-poor inequality in the utilisation of SMI-related psychiatric inpatient care in England (in other words, individuals in more deprived areas have higher utilisation of inpatient care than those in less deprived areas). Our objective was to determine whether there is pro-poor inequality in SMI-related psychiatric admissions in Ontario, and understand whether these inequalities have changed over time.

Methods — We selected all adult psychiatric admissions from April 2006 to March 2011. We identified changes in socio-economic equity over time across deprivation groups and geographic units by modeling, through ordinary least squares, annual need-expected standardised utilisation as a function of material deprivation and other relevant variables. We also tested for changes in socio-economic equity of utilisation over years, where the number of SMI-related psychiatric admissions for each geographic unit was modeled using a negative binomial model.

Results — We found pro-poor inequality in SMI-related psychiatric admissions in Ontario. For every one unit increase in deprivation, psychiatric admissions increased by about 8.1%. Pro-poor inequality was particularly present in very urban areas, where many patients with SMI reside, and very rural areas, where access to care is problematic. Our main findings did not change with our sensitivity analyses. Furthermore, this inequality did not change over time.

Conclusions — Individuals with SMI living in more deprived areas of Ontario had higher psychiatric admissions than those living in less deprived areas. Moreover, our findings suggest this inequality has remained unchanged over time. Despite the debate around whether to make more or less use of inpatient versus other care, policy makers should seek to address suboptimal supply of primary, community or social care for SMI patients. This may potentially be achieved through the elimination of barriers to access psychiatrist care and the implementation of universal coverage of psychotherapy.

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