Suicidal man sent home to noose

By David Whelan

A VULNERABLE North Belfast man who twice threatened to take his own life before overdosing on prescription drugs was allowed to return to his home where a noose was hanging, a mental health charity has claimed.

PIPS, whose headquarters are on the Antrim Road, slammed the Belfast Trust over what they say are evident failures in the system that saw staff at the Mater Hospital fail to notify them on the man’s release.

The charity also hit out at the care given to the man while he was in A&E – claiming that at one point staff lost him for a considerable period of time.

The man, who’s in his early fifties, presented himself to the Antrim Road office on August 11, telling staff that he had thought about killing himself at least twice and had left a noose hanging at his nearby home.

The man also admitted to taking a potentially lethal overdose of medication and so an ambulance was called to take him to the Mater’s Accident and Emergency unit.

The charity claim that the man was left in the waiting area for several hours before being seen, and on the arrival of a PIPS counsellor, staff admitted to not knowing the whereabouts of the man before he was later found sleeping off the effects of his overdose in a corner.

PIPS also said that they repeatedly asked staff at the hospital to notify them on the man’s release, so that they could offer him support and accompany him to his house.

A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust said that while they do not comment on individual cases, patients who present themselves to the emergency depart-ment in a suicidal state are seen within recognised time-frames.

“When patients present to the emergency depart-ment and they require support from our mental health team a referral is made – we aim to see the patient within two hours of referral providing the patient is clinically fit to be seen.”

The Trust added that they had a contract with FASA to work with patients and families but patient consent is needed to contact other individuals involved in patient care.

Operations Manager at PIPS, Maria Morgan, said that the release of vulnerable patients without proper follow-up procedures or support had become a regular occurrence.

“This is not the first time we have had trouble within the hospital in terms of other casualties or people getting released, with us knowing that there is a potential there for these people to take their lives and the hospital staff just releasing without any follow-up, without any support in place,“ she said. “These patients are being referred to counselling or for psychiatric assessment but that could be five and maybe even six weeks away and that’s not good for a person who needs immediate attention.

“It’s not just that hospital, we’ve had arguments with other hospitals to say you actually need to keep this person in here tonight and keep an eye on them and they said, well, no, they’re fine, we’ve assessed them and they are good to go.

“What we are saying is if that person goes home we know they are in danger of taking their life and this is your responsibility. We are not medical people, we are not doctors, but we do understand that if a person is in that mind frame, then the potential is very great for them to take their lives.

“We’re concerned that this is an ongoing issue with the Trust. It’s not just ourselves, there are a number of organisations out there that are dealing with mental health and suicide and I think that the service needs to be more joined-up.

“I know that the Public Health Authority are trying to develop an mental health hub, which is trying to develop a round service where community and trust organisations work and that’s fine in terms of therapies and treatments but in respect to those people who are attempting to take their own lives, the system is falling down quite badly,” added Maria.

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