World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on 10 September to promote worldwide action to prevent suicides. There are many shocking statistics in relation to suicide. Suicide is preventable.
Whilst it seems more acceptable to discuss our feelings and mental health, there is still a lot of work to be done. Especially during the past few months we have all been encouraged to talk to others about how we are feeling and there have been many messages in the media centred on being kind to one another. Certainly within the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team at Langleys Solicitors LLP, we have openly discussed our own and each other’s mental health, which has been especially important whilst we are not all working together on a day-to-day basis as we had been. Whilst getting together has been more difficult, the use of technology has enabled regular get-togethers which we have been able to use as a forum for discussion and a break from our usual work, for example by taking part in a mindfulness session given by a Mindfulness Practitioner.
Sadly we see, too often, through our speciality in advising on legal claims arising as a result of preventable suicide, the impact on suicide on victims and their families.
I have acted for many families who have suffered the bereavement of a loved one as a consequence of a preventable suicide, assisting the family throughout the Coronial process and then successfully establishing a legal claim, through the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934, Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and under the Human Rights Act 1998.
It is important to note the timescales for pursuing such claims, particularly under the Human Rights Act, whereby a claim has a limitation period and therefore must be brought within one year of the date of death, compared to three years where claims are being pursued under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and Fatal Accidents Act 1976. This means that the claim must be concluded within these timescales and if not, court proceedings must be issued to protect the claim going forwards. Another alternative is to seek an extension to the limitation period. Currently, Defendants are prepared to consider extensions to a limitation period, which is especially helpful in a claim relating to the Human Rights Act claim because unfortunately, due to the nature of the investigations required by the Coroner, it can often be the case that the Inquest process may still be ongoing at or around the one year period following death. Otherwise in the event that an agreement to extend the Limitation Period cannot be reached, there will be a need to issue Court Proceedings.
I have also acted for a number of Claimants who have, fortunately, not been successful in their attempt at suicide but who have been left with the physical and psychological consequences of that act, which was preventable in the first place.
As with all clinical negligence claims, it is best to seek advice from a specialist Clinical Negligence Practitioner, and one who holds membership of The Law Society’s Clinical Negligence Accreditation Scheme, the AvMA (Action Against Medical Accidents) Specialist Clinical Negligence Panel, or APIL Specialist Accreditation.
My colleague, Sheena Hall, is also experienced in action for Claimants in relation to preventable suicide. One such case she acted in is described below:
Miss O’Hara had a history of involvement with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the Harrogate area. She required an admission to the Newbury Centre in Middlesbrough in 2015 and responded positively to this.
On 20 February 2017 Miss O’Hara was taken to Accident and Emergency at Harrogate and District Hospital as a result of self harming. She was assessed and referred to the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) and thereafter allocated a care co-ordinator.
On 17 April 2017, Miss O’Hara was admitted to the Clinical Assessment and Treatment Ward after taking an overdose. She was assessed and a plan was made for Miss O’Hara to attend a GP follow up and a follow up under the CMHT. Miss O’Hara thereafter attended regular appointments with her care co-ordinator.
Unfortunately Miss O’Hara’s care became disrupted when her care co-ordinator was transferred to a different role. As a result of learning of this news Miss O’Hara took an overdose on 30 June 2017 and was taken to Harrogate Hospital. She was discharged the same day with a follow up from the Crisis Team. It was agreed that she would be seen daily by the Crisis Team.
Miss O’Hara was seen each day by different members of the Crisis Team from 2 July 2017 to 5 July 2017. Miss O’Hara continued to express suicidal thoughts and disclosed thoughts about how she would end her life throughout this time. On 5 July 2017 she advised the Crisis Team member that she planned to hang herself with her belt though did not have a plan for when she was going to do this and had not identified a location. Miss O’Hara spoke of having no option other than to end her life and she also spoke of plans to attend a medical review the following day.
Sadly, on 5 July 2017, Miss O’Hara was found by the Police having taken her own life.
Miss O’Hara’s parents instructed Langleys to represent them at the Inquest into Miss O’Hara’s death and to thereafter investigate a clinical negligence and Human Rights Act claim against Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust.
Medical evidence was obtained from a Community Psychiatric Nursing expert who identified several failings in the care provided to Miss O’Hara to include:
1. Failures by Miss O’Hara’s care co-ordinator to record consultation notes following his appointments with Miss O’Hara and a failure to record any care plans or risk assessment plans. In addition, there was a failure to review Miss O’Hara more frequently following her overdose on 18 April 2017.
2. There were failures on 3 May 2017 and 8 June 2017 by the care co-ordinator to pay sufficient attention to Miss O’Hara’s risk of self-harm and suicide when she stated that she was struggling to find reasons not to take her own life. It was considered that the care co-ordinator’s response was inadequate on both occasions.
3. There was a failure to ensure continuity of care for Miss O’Hara following the removal of her care co-ordinator.
4. There was a failure to admit Miss O’Hara to hospital following her overdose on 30 June 2017.
5. There were failures by the Crisis Team to prepare formal and rigorous risk assessments and risk management plans over the period of 1 and 5 July 2017.
6. There was a failure to act upon a real and immediate risk of Miss O’Hara taking her own life on 5 July 2017.
The expert’s opinion was that but for these failings, Miss O’Hara would not have taken an overdose on 30 June 2017 and would not have been able to take her own life on 5 July 2017. Once these allegations were put to the Defendant Trust, it was admitted that there were numerous failings in the care provided to Miss O’Hara and admitted that but for these failings, Miss O’Hara would have been admitted to hospital and would not have been able to take her own life on 5 July 2017.
Following this settlement negotiations were undertaken and damages were agreed in the sum of £26,500. Included within the damages was a claim for breach of operational duty under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998 on behalf of the Claimants.
This article was written by Andrew Cragg and Sheena Hall.
Andrew Cragg can be contacted by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephoning 01522-508757
Sheena Hall can be contacted by emailing her at email@example.com or by telephoning 01522-508799