Suicidal woman ‘should get payout for NHS failure’

St John's Hospital. Picture: Andrew Stuart
St John's Hospital. Picture: Andrew Stuart
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A SUICIDAL woman who was illegally drugged and locked up by hospital staff after swallowing razor blades should be handed an immediate compensation payout, an influential NHS Lothian board member and court sheriff has said.

The distressed patient was injected with an anti-psychotic drug and tied to a trolley before being forced into an ambulance without any legal documentation being completed.

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman was so concerned he took the almost unprecedented step of ordering it to be discussed at a public meeting of the NHS Lothian board.

The health board was criticised for “a complete failure to follow due process” in its treatment of the patient, who arrived at St John’s Hospital claiming to have swallowed two razor blades in November 2011.

She was transferred to the Royal Infirmary, where staff decided she did not need surgery but would be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Graeme Warner, a non-executive member of the NHS Lothian board who presides over cases on a part-time basis at Edinburgh Sheriff Courttold senior health bosses they should immediately offer a cash settlement to the woman.

He said: “It’s like a constable walking in here and taking one of us off to jail. We deprived this person of their liberty with no basis whatsoever.

“I think here, when it’s so clear we got it so badly wrong it would be nice to write to this lady and make a financial offer of settlement.”

Mr Warner, also a member of the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland, also said he had struggled to make sense of how senior medics had made such basic blunders, and that steps must be taken to ensure it “never happens again”.

“The form that should have been used is virtually self-completing,” he added.

“It’s really hard to understand how this happened. Anything is possible but for a doctor of the status they would have had to have been it’s impossible for me to imagine how they did it so wrong.”

The patient, who has not been named, was injected twice with antipsychotic drug halopridol after becoming involved in a struggle with hospital workers.

Mistakes with the order used to detain the patient only came to light five days into her detention.

The ombudsman said that while only a court could determine the legality of NHS Lothian’s actions, he had received expert advice that there had been no legal basis to remove or detain her.

The health board has apologised to the patient, in private and in public, and said that lessons had been learned from the case. But NHS Lothian finance director Susan Goldsmith told Mr Warner that it was not in the health board’s power to offer cash to the woman.

Tim Davison, NHS Lothian’s chief executive, said that detaining patients without properly following procedure was “out of order”, but that decisions around patients with serious mental health issues were often very complex.