Original Research

Prehospital care providers’ understanding of responsibilities during a behavioural emergency

Charnelle Stander, Peter Hodkinson, Enrico Dippenaar
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 27 | a1545 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v27i0.1545 | © 2021 Charnelle Stander, Peter Hodkinson, Enrico Dippenaar | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 April 2020 | Published: 27 January 2021

About the author(s)

Charnelle Stander, Division of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Peter Hodkinson, Division of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Enrico Dippenaar, Division of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa


Background: Prehospital emergency care providers are frequently called to assist with the management of mental healthcare users (MHCUs). The Mental Health Care Act no. 17 of 2002 regulates mental healthcare in South Africa, but the act fails to consider the responsibilities of prehospital emergency care providers in the provision of mental healthcare. Rather South African Police Services were given authority over the well-being of a MHCU in the prehospital setting.

Aim: To investigate prehospital emergency care providers’ understanding of their responsibilities towards MHCUs and the community during the management of behavioural emergencies.

Setting: The research was carried out at prehospital emergency care providers from the three main levels of care, currently operational within the boundaries of Pretoria, South Africa.

Methods: A grounded theory qualitative study design was chosen using semi-structured focus groups for each level of prehospital emergency care – basic life support (BLS), intermediate life support (ILS) and advanced life support (ALS). Data from each focus group were collected through audio recordings and transcribed and analysed using a framework approach.

Results: A total of 19 prehospital emergency care providers participated; two focus group interviews were performed for each level of care. The BLS focus groups each consisted of two participants. The ILS focus groups consisted of three participants each, and the ALS focus groups consisted of six and three participants. Four key themes were identified: perceptions of behavioural emergencies, responsibilities, understanding of legislation and barriers experienced.

Conclusion: Participants placed high value on their moral and medical responsibilities towards MHCUs, which they described as ensuring the safety of themselves, MHCUs and the community; preventing further harm; and transporting MHCUs to an appropriate healthcare facility. There was a desire for revision of legislation, better education, skill development and awareness of mental healthcare in the prehospital emergency care setting.


prehospital; responsibility; behaviour; emergency; mental healthcare


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Crossref Citations

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