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Call for Review after Suicide in Secure Psychiatric Unit

A grieving partner has called for major review of mental health care after his girlfriend killed herself while receiving treatment in a secure psychiatric unit.

Elaine Jobe was discovered hanging in a bathroom in Ocean View, in Barnstable, Devon, after spending more than two weeks as a patient.

Her still-distraught partner Simon Banks claims staff at the facility repeatedly ignored warnings she was a high suicide risk and failed to take simple steps to prevent her taking her own life.

Mrs Jobe was admitted to the Unit to keep her safe. The coroner highlighted its failure to do so and criticized procedures there.

Mr Banks, 58, has now launched legal action against Devon Partnership NHS Trust, alleging a breach of duty of care, in a bid to force through changes in the way similar cases are handled.

The retired chartered surveyor said, “Losing Elaine has been totally devastating. I just can’t image being with anyone else. She was a wonderful person and I feel that her suicide was preventable, I would hate for another family to go through what we have. I’m staggered this can happen in the very place where you expect her to be safe and looked after. She should have been on suicide watch.

“The warning signs could not have been clearer. Elaine was desperately suicidal. I raised my concerns repeatedly with staff at Ocean View but I don’t think they understood just how serious things were.

“Lessons need to be learned from what happened to Elaine. It’s not good enough just to hope it won’t happen again – major improvements need to be made.”

Mrs Jobe, a widow whose husband died in 2000, had struggled with mental illness during her 20s but recovered until she suffered a breakdown towards the end of 2010. Social workers visited her at home and was deemed to be a high suicide risk. A week later attempted to kill herself with a drug overdose. After this suicide attempt, the retired civil servant was admitted to Ocean View Psychiatric Unit in January 2011.

But her mental state failed to improve, causing grave concern from loved ones. During a visit home days before she died she repeatedly spoke of her wish to take her own life and her partner and friends had to keep a constant watch over her.

Mr Banks, of Watermouth Road, Ilfracombe, Devon said, “Every time I visited Elaine in Ocean View, her condition was deteriorating. There was very little attention paid to her – she was left for long periods of time on her own. She was losing weight, very introverted, she would be whispering to me ‘can you get me out of here, can you get me some pills’. I told them about this but they didn’t appear to do anything.

“We hoped Elaine would receive the care and treatment she desperately needed. We just couldn’t cope with her at home – I wasn’t sleeping because I was constantly trying to keep an eye on her. She was assessed by three doctors a couple of days before she killed herself. They were saying that she was well enough to go home. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. There was no way she was.”

He added, “When we first met we instantly clicked. She was witty, generous, extremely kind and caring but, in public, very quiet.

“She was also extremely intelligent and I think she was easily manipulating the staff into thinking she was better than she was. We warned the staff repeatedly not to believe her and that she was hoodwinking them – the last conversation I had with one of the nursing staff was the day before she killed herself - but they didn’t seem to take any notice.”

Staff found Mrs Jobe unconscious in her en suite bathroom on the morning of 2 February 2011, rushed to intensive care unit at North Devon General Hospital where she died two days later. It is claimed there were nine breaches of duty of care by staff at Ocean View in the days before Mrs Jobes’ death.

Mr Banks’ lawyer Paul Sankey of Slater and Gordon said, “This is a really tragic case. Mrs Jobe was clearly a vulnerable and suicidal patient who was a high risk to herself.  Her loved ones had reluctantly convinced her to stay in Ocean View because they thought it would be the safest place for her to receive treatment. But it seems that the very apparent warning signs were missed or ignored by staff; they failed in their primary duty to keep Mrs Jobe safe.

“Mrs Jobe should have been under constant observation and did not search her room and remove material likely to cause self-harm in view of her evident suicidal intentions. We believe there multiple separate and fundamental failings in this case.”

Paul Sankey is a Senior Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

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