Thursday, 26 November 2015

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Widow’s anger after husband walked out of Carlisle hospital and took his own life

The wife of a man who walked out of hospital and took his own life just hours after an earlier suicide attempt says lessons must be learned from his death.

David Hagan photo
David Hagan

David Hagan, 34, had downed alcohol and pills when he was admitted to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and told medics he no longer wanted to stay alive. Later that morning, he walked out of the ward for a cigarette and was found hanged in nearby woods at Engine Lonning.

His wife Abigail, 37, insists lessons must be learned. She told the News & Star she did not understand how “despite previous suicide attempts he was able to walk out of hospital and take his own life.”

“He was very vulnerable at the time of his death,” she said. “There have been some lessons learnt from [it] but I am concerned that vital information may still be being missed because of a lack of communication between the various agencies involved in mental health care.”

Victoria Watson, a partner at Burnetts solicitors, said the family had assumed Mr Hagan, a self-employed plumber, would be safe in hospital. A three-day inquest into his death began yesterday and heard how he had been battling anxiety and depression since 2008.

He had made repeated visits to his GP reporting problems with stress, insomnia and money worries and was drinking and taking drugs. The father of four had been referred to [mental health organisation] First Step at the time of his death and had been prescribed diazepam.

Mr Hagan, of Silloth, was taken into the Infirmary at 1.16am on June 28 2010 – 12 days after being admitted following a previous attempt to take his own life.

Dr Chris Staines, who was on duty in A&E, said: “He made it clear he would end his life if he was allowed to live and he had plans to do so. He had taken a mixed overdose of tablets and diazepam and whisky. He said he was £15,000 in debt.”

Dr Staines immediately called the crisis team from the Carleton Clinic to do an assessment but they were unable to because Mr Hagan, who he described as unkempt, untidy and avoiding eye contact, was slipping in and out of consciousness and struggling to stay awake due to the pills and alcohol.

Paul Bell, from the team, said he found Mr Hagan sitting “drooling and having difficulty with speech” when he saw him.

“I said I, or another colleague, would return when he was more alert,” he told coroner David Roberts.

Dr Staines said Mr Hagan could not be admitted to the Carleton Clinic because of his medical condition. “The Carleton Clinic wouldn’t have been able to manage if anything had gone wrong medically,” he said. “He needed to be on a medical ward.”

He said he handed Mr Hagan over to a ward where he would be subject to general nursing care and observations.

Mr Bell said the reality of trying to physically stop someone from leaving hospital if they were not sectioned or in a psychiatric hospital “would be difficult”.

“Even if I tried to transfer him [to the Carleton Clinic] the psychiatric unit wouldn’t have been able to accept him in that state,” he added.

He heard nothing more from the hospital overnight and handed the case to a colleague at 7am the next day. “She contacted the hospital at 8.15am and was told he had gone out for a cigarette,” he said. “A description was given to the police and he was later found dead.”

Mr Bell, who has since retired, accepted new procedures had been brought in to introduce interim care plans when assessments can’t be done immediately.

Mrs Hagan said she hopes the coroner will be able to answer questions and spark changes to the way mental health patients are dealt with.

“David was a family man, a hands-on dad, who loved his children very much,” she said. “He was hard-working and conscientious: he never wanted to disappoint any of his customers, but in the months before he died, he had become severely depressed about his business finances.

“I hope the inquest will help to make the changes needed to protect others with mental health issues, but it is an extremely difficult time for our family and a high price to pay to see my kids growing up without their dad.”

Victoria Watson said they hoped the inquest would provide some answers for the family. “Burnetts is acting for a number of families who also have concerns regarding the care provided by mental health services,” she added.


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