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Woman Takes Her Own Life After Mental Health Care Mistakes

Clinical negligence experts at Irwin Mitchell have secured a settlement for the family of a grandmother who took her own life following a series of errors made by an NHS Trust.

Sarah left behind her adult children and a young grandson when she committed suicide. She was just 48 years old.

Changes In Behaviour

Sarah’s daughter, Lisa, noted changes in her mother’s behaviour about six months before her death. She had started to act in a way that was out of character, as well as talking about self-harm and suicide. She visited A&E a number of times, where she was referred to the local Mental Health NHS Trust’s home treatment team.

The team agreed a care plan but it wasn’t always followed. Several attempts were made by the home treatment team to visit Sarah at home, but they were often unsuccessful. Even though the team had agreed in the care plan to phone Sarah every day, this didn’t happen. They also didn’t follow it up when their calls had gone unanswered.

Sarah’s assurances to the team that she was feeling okay and taking her medication were accepted at face value. However, the team’s risk assessments contained mention of the fact that Sarah had expressed suicidal thoughts.

Failure To Contact Sarah

She made further visits to A&E and admitted that she hadn’t taken her medication for the past fortnight. But the team didn’t attempt to contact Sarah until a week later, after Lisa had expressed concern to the Trust that she hadn’t seen Sarah for four days and that she had been talking about suicide. Tragically, Sarah had taken her own life three days before.

Lisa got in touch with Irwin Mitchell’s medical negligence team to make a claim against the Mental Health NHS Trust.

How We Helped

Our solicitors made the argument that over a number of months (during which time Sarah had attempted to take her own life on several occasions) the Trust had repeatedly failed in its duty to take Sarah’s suicidal thoughts seriously.

In addition, we maintained that Sarah should have been admitted to hospital, where she could have stayed long enough to establish that she was taking her medication. Her daughter was also concerned that she hadn’t been the main point of contact for the Trust, despite making a clear request.

A report made after an internal investigation by the Trust found several serious problems in Sarah’s care. In spite of this, the Trust denied liability to begin with, meaning that Lisa had to issue Court proceedings before the Trust made any admissions of mistakes.

They eventually conceded that they hadn’t provided a consistent, accurate diagnosis and that they had failed to recommend a prolonged inpatient stay. The Trust also admitted that their mistakes amounted to a breach of duty of care.

But they continued to argue that Sarah’s death was unforeseeable, unpreventable and that she had made her own choice to take her life, denying that the failings in care had caused her death. These suggestions were a source of additional distress for Lisa.

Settlement Negotiated

To allow her daughter to pursue her chosen career, Sarah had provided regular childcare for Lisa’s son. This childcare was supposed to continue for several more years. However, the Trust denied that Sarah would have continued to give a significant amount of care. Eventually Irwin Mitchell negotiated a settlement of £60,000, part of which was payable to Sarah’s grandson.

Louise Forsyth, a solicitor in Irwin Mitchell’s Medical Law and Patients’ Rights team, represented Lisa.

She said: “Even though nothing can compensate the loss of a mother/grandmother, we hope the settlement will go a small way to supporting Lisa in taking care of her son in his grandma’s absence and a small acknowledgment to him of the loss of the very special relationship he had with Sarah.”

If you or a loved one has suffered due to professional or clinical negligence from a mental health practitioner, or at worst your loved one has died, we can help you to claim compensation. Visit our Mental Health Negligence Claims page for more information.

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