Patient died after jumping from hospital window, inquest hears

Friday, 14th February 2014

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Published: 14 February, 2014
By ALICE HUTTON

A MAN suffering from alcohol withdrawal threw himself out of a fourth-floor window at the Whittington Hospital after he became disorientated and confused while waiting for a psychiatric review that doctors forgot to order, an inquest has heard.  

Vincent Fulham called an ambulance and admitted himself to the Highgate hospital on April 18 last year, claiming he was suffering from heart palpitations, vomiting and diarrhoea. 

The 39-year-old had been living at Corner House Hotel, in Camden Road, Camden Town, after being evicted from his flat. He had struggled with alcohol addiction and been seen by mental health teams twice in the last three years for an accidental overdose of painkillers and hallucinations.

Although Whittington doctors were unable to diagnose the problem his condition stabilised over the next three days, with fluids and a non-urgent psychiatric assessment prescribed. 

However, an inquest at Poplar Coroner’s Court was told on Monday that, due to administrative errors, the review was never ordered, that he went unvisited by doctors for twelve-and-a-half hours and that two nurses who were eyewitnesses to his death were not present to give evidence. 

The inquest heard how over three days Mr Fulham’s state of mind went from “jovial and chirpy” to “confused” until the night of his death when he began wandering around the ward incoherently before running away from the two nurses monitoring him, locking himself in a room, breaking the security locks on windows and throwing himself out. 

Assistant coroner Selena Lynch said she was “rather dismayed” that both nurses who witnessed the incident had not attended the inquest.

A police statement from one of the nurses, Sandra Agbede, described how in the hours leading up to Mr Fulham’s death his state of mind deteriorated as he pulled a drip out his arm, began acting confused, refused treatment and started to wander into parts of the ward reserved for female patients.

She called security but was told they would not attend unless he was being aggressive. The psychiatric practitioner said Mr Fulham couldn’t be seen until the morning. 

Mrs Lynch told Mr Fulham’s family, who were present, that she had reached an open conclusion as, although she was clear he had intentionally thrown himself out of the window, his state of mind was unknown at the time and she couldn’t be sure he intended to kill himself. 

“The nurses asked for help and that help was not forthcoming,” Mrs Lynch said. “They recognised quite rightly that he was struggling and they were struggling to contain him. We will never know if a trained psychiatrist who had spent an hour or two with him would have picked something up.”

She added: “Was this some kind of psychiatric episode brought on suddenly, was it just an impulsive desire to end his life and he felt he could not talk to anybody? I really don’t know. I don’t think he meant to kill himself. I think perhaps he was not thinking clearly at the time.”

Martin Corbett, Mr Fulham’s brother-in-law, said that he hadn’t been in touch with his family for the last four years but paid tribute to him as a “a very independent, happy-go-lucky person”.

Mr Fulham’s partner Maria Gormon told the inquest: “I assumed, stupidly, that at least he is in hospital he is being looked after. At least he is safe.”

A hospital spokeswoman said: “We would like to send our deepest condolences to the family and friends. Following Mr Fulham’s death, we carried out a thorough internal investigation. As part of this investigation, the Health and Safety Executive carried out a review of our premises, including the restricted window.”

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