Duty of care in mental health following patient suicide

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Medical Malpractice on Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Essex, much like the rest of the United Kingdom, keeps a close eye on the state of their local NHS services. Mental health care is an area often neglected, and unfortunately, that can extend to the practice of the professionals employed therein. Putting an individual on suicide watch means that the mental health team needs to be especially vigilant, but occasionally, standards slip with terrible consequences.

In February 2012, a young woman from Northamptonshire committed suicide whilst an inpatient at the Meadowlands mental health unit in Norfolk. Two months earlier, she claimed to have been raped by a fellow patient, claims which she apparently felt were not taken seriously. The case was indeed investigated, but the police found there was not enough evidence to convict.

However, there are some who believe that the woman’s death was entirely preventable. She was being observed four times an hour due to previous concerns that she would commit suicide. The day before her death, she reportedly handed a suicide note to a member of staff. The observations were then supposed to increase to six times a day, yet several nurses testified that they were unaware of this change.

The victim’s family may choose to attempt to file a case for medical malpractice. The staff failed both in their obligation to communicate up to date treatment plans to staff promptly. It could be decided in court that this makes them negligent, as they failed to fulfill their duty of care, and could result in compensation. Sometimes, an out of court settlement is more appropriate than going to trial, so it is important for individuals to research their options when taking action against the mistakes or incompetence of medical practitioners.

Source: BBC News, “Rape claim mental health patient ‘took own life’ at Norwich hospital,” 9 Feb. 2015

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