Mentally ill patient allowed out despite her suicide threats

Sarah Doherty took an overdose in 2010
Sarah Doherty took an overdose in 2010
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DOCTORS have been accused of “playing Russian roulette” with a mentally ill patient’s life after allowing her to leave hospital unattended despite threatening to kill herself.

Ex-nun and former teacher Sarah Doherty waived her right of anonymity to tell the Evening News how she warned staff she could not control herself and would commit suicide.

The 41-year-old took an overdose and had to be rushed to the ERI ’s toxicology ward after being allowed to leave the Royal Edinburgh Hospital alone to see her psychologist.

Today, her sister criticised her treatment, after the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman rebuked the hospital for “extremely serious failings”.

Ms Doherty, from Craigentinny, was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2008 and was admitted in September 2010 after saying she planned to kill herself.

Her sister, Suzanne Robinson said: “I couldn’t believe what was happening. Every time I put in a complaint they made out that I was a troublemaker.”

She hit out at the decision to let Ms Doherty leave hospital unescorted, saying she felt medics were “playing Russian roulette with my sister’s life”.

Ms Doherty was allowed to leave hospital for three hours to visit her psychologist about ten days after being admitted.

The evening before, her friend phoned the hospital to express concerns about the trip after receiving a text from Ms Doherty saying she planned to skip the appointment and kill herself.

Ms Docherty said today she had warned staff of her suicide plan. She said: “I had no control over myself – I knew I would kill myself. I then went home and took as many tablets as I could, taking the most dangerous first. I only stopped when I could take no more.” 

Mrs Robinson said she and her brother had both called the hospital that day and implored staff not to let her out alone.

“We knew what was going to happen because we’d been told,” Mrs Robinson said.

“Her intention was to get in the car and torch herself.”

On arriving at her flat, Ms Doherty realised that she had a flat tyre and instead took an overdose at home.

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Jim Martin upheld two complaints lodged by Mrs Robinson. He said there were “extremely serious failings” on the part of the hospital and ordered a peer review of many of its practices.

He also told NHS Lothian to apologise to Ms Doherty and Mrs Robinson, who were referred to in the report as Ms A and Mrs C.

Melanie Hornett, nurse director of NHS Lothian, said: “We will be writing to Mrs C to formally apologise and I would like to repeat that apology publicly. We have set in place an internal review.”