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Friday, 24 October 2014

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Duped staff let Carlisle man leave psychiatric unit - inquest

A man with a history of depression who was in a psychiatric ward duped hospital staff into allowing him to leave before dying later that day, an inquest heard.

Allan Atkinson photo
Allan Atkinson

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Retired gas engineer Allan Atkinson, 60, of Etterby, Carlisle, left the Hadrian unit of Carleton Clinic on January 7 and never returned.

His disappearance sparked a search and rescue operation that lasted more than two weeks until his body was found on January 24 in the River Eden at Warwick Bridge.

Coroner David Roberts returned an “open conclusion” to his death, saying he died as a result of being immersed in cold fresh river water, however, the exact medical cause of his death was undetermined.

On the day of his disappearance Mr Atkinson had requested unaccompanied leave from the ward and told staff he intended to go and see one of his brothers.

Ultimately leave was granted but Mr Atkinson did not go and see his brother, instead heading to Wetheral, on the outskirts of the city, with evidence suggesting he died later that day.

During the inquest Mr Atkinson’s family, who had not been told he was leaving the ward, raised concerns about how he was allowed to go. Mr Roberts said he believed Mr Atkinson had deliberately lied to staff to be granted leave.

Julie Thompson, a healthcare assistant, thwarted his attempts to leave unescorted for a walk to Scotby just days before because she assessed him as not being ready for that. He was not sectioned at this time, meaning legally he was ultimately free to leave the ward.

Ms Thompson told the inquest: “He was obviously in an agitated state. There was no clear reason for him wanting to go that far.”

However, on January 7, Ms Thompson said Mr Atkinson appeared in a better condition. “He requested leave to go to his brother’s. He told me his brother was currently at work but would be back by the time he got there. He was positive and bright and gave me a clear plan for the day,” she added.

She then discussed leave with a qualified member of staff and a doctor before granting it. Ms Thompson also told the inquest that she had no reason to not trust the account Mr Atkinson gave her that day.

Giving his verdict, Mr Roberts said: “He [Mr Atkinson] said his brother couldn’t be contacted by phone but would be there when he got there. In contrast to January 1, Ms Thompson felt he was differently presented. He had a plan, bus times in his head and he certainly had money. She went to discuss that with her superior and a doctor who was there. All three had no concerns at that stage.

“He was not telling the truth to Ms Thompson and when his brother said he was coming to visit, he put his brother off in my view. Allan knew full well that the hospital could have contacted his brother because he had contacted him that day.

"He had deliberately misled his brother and Ms Thompson. It seems to me clear that Mr Atkinson had worked out that if he wanted to leave the ward he had to present in a particular way and tick the boxes. So he came up with a clear plan. In my view he learned his lesson and presented himself in a way to achieve his aim.”

Mr Atkinson was sectioned to Carleton Clinic on December 7 after escaping from Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary after being admitted there for disappearing from his family and taking an overdose of paracetamol in a hotel room.

He had a history of depression and anxiety problems dating back to 2010 when he had some health issues.

The inquest heard from his brothers Ian and Andrew, as well as his wife Lynn who described him as a “full-living person” who had a “fantastic sense of humour”.

Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said: “We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Mr Atkinson’s family at this sad time. The Trust has taken his death very seriously and carried out a full investigation. We remain committed to providing high quality patient care.”

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