Unexpected injury or death of a loved one while in hospital care is a particularly confronting situation for families. This perhaps even more so when the injured family member has been placed in the care, voluntarily or otherwise, of a hospital for the purpose of treatment of a mental health condition.
We recently acted for the family of a young man who tragically died while he was a patient, and on the premises of, a local private hospital. He died a short distance from the entrance to the hospital, in bushland, against a background of being agitated that morning, threatening to suicide and asking to go to the public mental health unit.
The death was made the subject of an inquest and the findings were recently handed down by Deputy State Coroner Paul McMahon and reported in the Herald newspaper on Saturday 20 February 2016.
In this case the patient overdosed on his own medication, which at that time was kept in his bedside drawer at the hospital. We note that the hospital’s procedure has now been changed and that the medication is now kept securely in a separate cabinet in the nurses’ station.
The Coroner found that the patient’s death was preventable and occurred due to two overarching issues – his access to medication and the failure of the hospital’s staff to “properly appreciate and respond to the crisis” he was in and prevent him from leaving the ward, or appropriately keeping him in sight until he had been assessed by a psychiatrist.
We have acted in other matters involving similar issues, both in terms of mental state and suicide risk assessment as well as inappropriate access to potentially lethal medications. Indeed, in the current criminal and civil matters relating to the deaths of the residents at a local nursing home – see our blog post here – this will no doubt be a matter the court will be asked to consider.
by Belinda Epstein.