YORK Hospital has made major changes in the way mentally-ill patients are cared for since a woman died through hanging in a ward toilet, an inquest was told.

Laura Lewis, who had been admitted to the hospital in October 2013 after slashing her wrists and neck, was left alone in a side room on a short stay ward and was found hanging in its en-suite bathroom.

The inquest heard that after the 34-year-old had initially arrived at A & E, it had not been possible for a psychiatric assessment to be carried out.

She was transferred first to intensive care and then on to the short stay ward, where the sister was not aware of the opinion of medical staff elsewhere in the hospital that she should receive one-to-one care.

Assistant director of nursing Pamela Hayward-Sampson said she accepted that the system for dealing with such patients was 'not robust enough' and said a serious incident review had been conducted following Ms Lewis' death which had resulted in a series of changes.

Mental health training had been given to staff on certain wards and a risk assessment had been introduced for when patients were transferred from one ward to another, to ensure staff knew what needed to be done to ensure they were cared for appropriately.

Mental health professionals were also now based at A & E or on call 24/7 to assist in dealing with patients with mental health disorders.

She added that equipment on wards which could be used to assist in hanging had also been replaced by safer items.

York acting senior coroner Jonathan Leach gave an open conclusion, saying Ms Lewis's actions could have been self-harming or a 'cry for help' rather than a deliberate attempt to take her own life.

He said Ms Lewis, of Feversham Crescent, York, was a drug dependent person with a personality disorder and a chaotic life, who had repeatedly self-harmed in the past and had not left a note or made any other indication she intended suicide.

Dr Alastair Turnbull, medical director at York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, told The Press: “It is extremely sad that a young person has lost their life in this way, and our thoughts are with Miss Lewis’s family.

"This incident has also had a profound effect on our staff. We have made several adjustments to our practices including mental health training for staff working in higher-risk areas, and the introduction of a risk assessment for vulnerable patients. We have also made the environment of the wards safer.

"Since this incident we have seen the introduction of a mental health liaison service at the hospital. For a long time there has been a need for greater support for patients with mental health disorders who attend the emergency department, and trained professionals including nurses, and a consultant psychiatrist are now accessible to provide support and expert advice.”

Inquest told of threats to kill by former partner 

York Press: Coroner, Jonathan LeachCoroner, Jonathan Leach
Coroner, Jonathan Leach

THE inquest heard that a former boyfriend had been threatening to kill Laura Lewis before she cut her wrists and neck.

PC Nick Garbutt said, in a statement, that he had been called to a flat in Feversham Crescent after threats had allegedly been made by an ex-boyfriend in London to kill Ms Lewis and a York man, Keith Murty.

He said he had found Ms Lewis and Mr Murty in the flat, and Mr Murty had said that he had ‘rescued her’ from the boyfriend in London and brought her back to York, and the Metropolitan Police had been involved in the matter.

The police officer said that while he was at the flat, Ms Lewis’s phone rang and he could hear the caller, speaking in an aggressive voice, say: “You could do everyone a favour and commit suicide.”

A statement by Royden Wakefield, a different former boyfriend of Ms Lewis, which was read out at the inquest, made a number of allegations against Mr Murty, including claims that he had abused Ms Lewis.

The coroner, Jonathan Leach, invited Mr Murty, a retired RAF squadron leader, to respond to the allegations by Mr Wakefield, and say whether any of them were true.

He said they were not true but was refused permission to say anything more.

• Anyone with concerns about depression can phone PAPYRUS’ HOPELineUK on 0800 0684141, or go to papyrus-uk.org, or phone Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit www.samaritans.org