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Paul Sankey: Man Left Overnight to Die in Hospital Corridor

The shocking story of the man who died whilst lying in the corridor of a psychiatric hospital because staff failed to send him to Accident and Emergency highlights the failures which sadly occur from time to time in mental health care.

Peter Thompson was a voluntary inpatient but when he arrived at the ward with a bottle of vodka he was refused admission and left ‘to sleep it off’ in the corridor. It was not until the following morning that anyone noticed he was not breathing.

At an inquest the Coroner described Mr Thompson’s death as ‘wholly preventable’ and the Accident and Emergency Consultant who gave evidence said he would have survived had he been taken to Accident and Emergency. As regards claims for damages, claims on behalf of psychiatric patients are often difficult. There can be problems in obtaining evidence as to what someone’s condition was and a patient’s account of events is not always reliable. There can also be difficulties at times in showing that different management would have led to a quantifiably different outcome.

However my colleagues and I have dealt with a large number of claims recently for the families of people who have died in psychiatric units. In a number of cases neglect has tragically given patients the opportunity to take their own lives. I have as many as 4 cases from one Trust alone.

One of my concerns about these cases is that people who are psychiatrically ill are particularly vulnerable and are more than usually dependent on proper care from medical staff. In this case, Mr Thompson knew that he needed help – he sought admission to the unit. Staff were correct in not allowing him onto the ward when he returned with a bottle of vodka. But they were quite wrong simply to leave him to sleep on the corridor floor when he needed urgent medical care.

A spokesman for the Trust has rightly expressed regret but what is more important is that this and other units learns from its mistakes to avoid the same happening to other vulnerable people.

Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049, fill in our short online claim form and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.