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Liability for failure to admit suicidal patient | Our client’s story

Suicidal Patient

We acted for the parents of a young man against a mental health facility who were found liable for failure to admit a suicidal patient – their son.

The deceased had been under the care of psychiatrists for mental health issues and substance abuse and was recommended by one of his treating team to a psychiatrist who managed the care of patients at the private hospital. The private hospital did not accept patients who required involuntary treatment under the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW)(“MHA”). .

After an attempt at suicide by way of deliberate self-poisoning of prescription drugs, the deceased was transferred from the private facility to the public hospital and scheduled under the MHA. He remained at the public hospital for just four days before being transferred back to the private hospital where he was treated as an outpatient. He remained at the private facility from that time until his death 10 weeks later. There was a brief period of involuntary treatment at the public hospital during this period.

The medical records maintained by the private hospital noted that the deceased thought about suicide 60% of the time. He expressed to the nursing staff his desire to “kill himself” and discussed the same with other patients at the facility.

Four days before his death and while still a patient at the private facility, our clients received telephone calls from the deceased indicating that he intended to take his life. This information was conveyed to nursing staff at the private hospital.

The deceased was found facedown in bushland at the rear of the hospital.

An inquest was held into the death – the Coroner finding that the death was preventable and identified two fundamental failings on the part of the hospital. The first was the ready availability of the drugs consumed leading to his death. The second was the failure of the staff on duty at the hospital to properly appreciate and respond to the deceased’s escalating suicidal ideation and intent.

Our clients then commenced negligence proceedings against the private hospital relying upon the evidence of an independent psychiatrist  – whose opinion was that the hospital’s staff displayed indifference towards the deceased’s mental and physical anguish – and an independent psychiatric nurse. The hospital relied on a psychiatrist – regularly engaged in cases such as this one – whose view was that the death was unpreventable even had the nursing staff intervened. In support of this proposition, the defence psychiatrist asserted – and often asserts – that there is no evidence, empirical or otherwise, that assessing a patient’s mental state, including suicidal ideation, reduces suicide rates.

Our clients presented evidence in the negligence proceedings of major depressive illness caused by the death of their son which was largely uncontested by the defence psychiatric evidence.

The claim was settled successfully.

If you or someone you care about needs support contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

If you or a loved one has experienced medical negligence, contact our caring expert lawyers on 02 4929 3995

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