Verdict delivered on troubled man’s inquest

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A CORONER has delivered a narrative verdict after a mental health patient was found hanging in the grounds of a hospital.

Stephen Hipkins, 28, was found hanging in the grounds of St James’ Hospital on January 27 last year.

He had been a voluntary patient being treated in the Hawthorn ward of The Orchards.

An inquest held today at the Portsmouth Guildhall coroner David Horsley said that while Mr Hipkins suffered from mental health problems for a number of years, drinking problems and self harm issues.

But Mr Horsley said that Mr Hipkins genuinely wanted help and was a patient at St James’ Hospital on a voluntary basis.

Mr Horsley said: ‘It was clear there was a lot of turmoil going through his mind.

‘How he left that ward on that night we simply don’t know – there are a number of possibilities.

‘He could have been let out by someone who had a key, he could have tailgated someone, or got someone to let him out the back garden and get over the very low fence.

‘What he did was very dangerous and led to his death.

‘We can’t say 100 per cent that he wanted to take his own life, so I will record a verdict of a short narrative.’

Earlier in the day, the court heard that Mr Hipkins had been living in Great Yarmouth for about four-and-a-half years, but came back to Portsmouth in December 2012, to escape an abusive relationship.
After getting a flat in Portsmouth, Mr Hipkins went to Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, with superficial cuts to his arm and had drank a litre of vodka, on January 21, 2013.

He then said he wanted more help and voluntarily became a patient under the care of Solent NHS Trust, which runs The Orchards, on January 22, last year.

The court heard that Dr Ahmad Hadi, a locum consultant psychiatrist, carried out a medical assessment in which he did not think Mr Hipkins was at risk of harming himself.

Dr Hadi said that Mr Hipkins would be entitled to leave, but at this point Mr Hipkins became upset and left the room, thinking he was being discharged.

He went to the Hanway Medical Practice, in Hanway Road, Buckland, to register as a patient in Portsmouth, as he feared he would be sent back to Great Yarmouth.

There he spoke with Dr Shane Lookit, he said: ‘Stephen said that he felt like he was going to hang himself if he did not get any help.

‘He had not picked a place, but I felt this wasn’t improbable so I called the Crisis team.

‘They said Stephen had not been discharged, but was allowed to get leave.

‘I said it would be a good idea for him to return and he agreed.’

After returning to The Orchards, nursing staff said while Mr Hipkins did not interact with staff much, he was social with patients and in particular one female.

On January 27, Mr Hipkins was seen in his room during hourly observations at 7pm. But at the 8pm ward round, he was not in his room.

After a ward search was conducted, nursing staff alerted security about a missing patient.

At 10pm Mr Hipkins was found hanging in the grounds of St James’ Hospital.

A security report commissioned by Solent NHS Trust found that there was a lack of CCTV near the ward, and that the computer in charge of which key card opens which door was not wired up correctly.

Since Mr Hipkins’ death, the trust said it has made changes, which include adding CCTV, changing the security computer system to record access in and out, and increasing a garden fence from 1.8metres to 3.6metres.