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21 March 2014, 07:09 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50
The family of a 28-year-old man with mental health problems, who hanged himself in the grounds of a Portsmouth hospital, say they will be seeking answers at an inquest into his death.
Stephen Hipkins, who had expressed suicidal thoughts, was an in-patient on the Hawthorns Ward of The Orchards mental health unit at St James’ Hospital, when he died on 27 January 2013.
Stephen was able to leave the ward to take his own life even though there was supposed to be a locked door policy in place that day. His family say the hospital has not been able to give them a satisfactory explanation of how this could happen.
Coroner Mr David Horsley will conduct an inquest at Portsmouth Guildhall on Friday (21 March) from 9am into the circumstances of Stephen’s death. Stephen’s family will be represented at the hearing by Dr John White, a specialist clinical negligence lawyer from law firm Blake Lapthorn.
Dr White said:
“Stephen had clearly said he was going to hang himself and therefore I would have expected that his admission to the mental health unit was intended to put him in a place of safety where he would receive appropriate therapy and support.
“It appears however that Stephen’s behaviour was treated by the hospital as being cries for help rather than appreciating the severity of the risk that he was about to take his own life.
“The family is looking for answers as to just how Stephen could leave the ward without being assessed and I hope that the Coroner’s enquiry will enable the relevant NHS services to put in place clinical and security measures that will reduce the risk of such an incident happening again”.
Stephen, who had past problems with depression and overuse of alcohol, had attended Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, Portsmouth on 21 January after his flatmate called an ambulance because Stephen was cutting his right arm. In hospital Stephen said that he would hang himself and he underwent a mental health assessment so that a decision could be made how to manage him.
He was admitted to St James’ where his behaviour was to be observed with regular suicide watch observations. It was considered that Stephen still had mental capacity and he was therefore legally entitled to leave should he choose to do so - but there was a hospital policy that he should be risk-assessed before being allowed to leave the ward for any reason.
On the evening of 27 January 2013 a member of staff on duty noted that Stephen was missing and the hospital’s security was alerted. At around 10pm the security officer at St James’ found Stephen hanged from a tree in the grounds.
Evidence at Friday’s inquest will be heard from: Tina McNair, Stephen’s mother; the police officer who attended at the scene; the security officer; the consultant psychiatrist in overall charge of Stephen’s care; a senior healthcare support worker from the ward; and a general practitioner, who Stephen had also seen when he left the ward for a time on January 22, 2013.
Mrs McNair said:
“We know Stephen had had his ups and downs but he was always a character at family events and we always valued his company. When he was admitted to Hawthorns ward, he had said he was suicidal and I think the ward staff should have done more to address the risk of him taking his own life. They gave him some treatment for alcohol misuse but otherwise I think they did just not do enough for him.
“I am still looking for an explanation how Stephen was able to leave the ward undetected since no one from the hospital has been able to tell me precisely what happened. Hopefully we will find out more answers from this inquest and then lessons will be learned by the hospital so that no other families have to suffer from a loss in the way that we have done”.