Family seeks answers after patient found hanged in hospital grounds

Stephen Hipkins
Stephen Hipkins
QA Hospital. Picture: Will Caddy

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RELATIVES of a mentally-ill man who hanged himself in hospital grounds are calling for answers at an inquest into his death.

Stephen Hipkins, 28, was an inpatient at St James’s Hospital in Locksway Road, Milton, Portsmouth, when he died.

His family wants to know why Mr Hipkins was able to leave Hawthorns Ward on the Orchards unit as they believe a locked door policy was meant to be in place on the day he died.

Mr Hipkins had been admitted to the hospital six days earlier after saying he would hang himself.

An inquest into the circumstances of Mr Hipkins’ death on January 27 last year is to be held at Portsmouth Guildhall on Friday.

Mr Hipkins’ mum Tina McNair said: ‘When [Stephen] was admitted to Hawthorns ward, he had said he was suicidal and I think the ward staff should have done more to address the risk of him taking his own life.

‘They gave him some treatment for alcohol misuse but otherwise I think they did just not do enough for him.

‘I am still looking for an explanation how Stephen was able to leave the ward undetected since no one from the hospital has been able to tell me precisely what happened.

‘Hopefully we will find out more answers from this inquest and then lessons will be learned by the hospital so that no other families have to suffer from a loss in the way that we have done.’

Mr Hipkins attended Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, on January 21 last year before he died after his flatmate called an ambulance because he was cutting his right arm.

Solicitors for the family say Stephen, who had suffered from depression and had had drinking problems, was assessed and admitted to St James’s Hospital after expressing suicidal thoughts.

He was to be observed on suicide watch but he was legally entitled to leave the ward as he was considered to have adequate mental capacity.

However hospital policy stated he should be risk-assessed before being allowed to leave the ward, say the family.

Hospital security was alerted after Mr Hipkins went missing six days later. A security officer found him hanged in the grounds at about 10pm.

Dr John White, a specialist clinical negligence lawyer from law firm Blake Lapthorn, is representing the family. He said: ‘The family is looking for answers as to just how Stephen could leave the ward without being assessed and I hope that the coroner’s enquiry will enable the relevant NHS services to put in place clinical and security measures that will reduce the risk of such an incident happening again.’

A spokesman for Solent NHS Trust which runs St James’s Hospital said the trust was unable to comment until the inquest has concluded.