Northampton mental health hospital criticised after staff failed to record a patient’s suicide attempts

Isobel Griffin
Isobel Griffin

A widower has branded Berrywood Hospital in Northampton a “joke” and “a holiday camp” after staff failed to record a suicide attempt his wife made, only days before ending her own life.

Isobel Griffin, of Daniell Walk, in Corby, used a dressing gown cord to hang herself in a room at the Bay Ward of the mental health facility on August 17, 2013.

An inquest into her death yesterday heard how the mother-of-two had been admitted there just over a fortnight earlier, after she had gone missing from her home and was found days later having taken a drugs overdose.

But as staff did not record that she was a high ‘ligature risk’, she was allowed to keep a dressing gown in her room, a part of which she ultimately used to take her own life.

Days before her death, she had admitted to a nurse that she had tried to use a belt to strangle herself on four separate occasions.

Speaking at the inquest, her husband of 39 years, Jim Griffin, criticised the facility for the way it handled her care.

He said: “It was a shambles, it was disorganised, nobody seemed to know who, where or what was going on.

“It seemed like a holiday camp; the hospital itself was a joke.”

Mrs Griffin, who was 57, had a history of mental health problems dating back to 1980 and had been diagnosed as having an ongoing personality disorder more than a year before the end of her life.

The inquest heard that on August 7, while being treated at Berrywood, she handed over a belt and scissors to a hospital nurse for her own safety, admitting that she had tried to take her own life on four previous occasions.

But the incident was not recorded in a ‘risk assessment’ of her.

Acting on behalf of Mrs Griffin’s family, solicitor Richard Adams, asked Tandiwe Mugwagwa, the nurse in charge of updating that assessment: “Would you not have thought those events on the seventh of August were significant events?”

Ms Mugwagwa replied: “On the day that happened, that should have been highlighted as a risk as well. I’m not denying that,”

The inquest also heard other factors which might have pointed to Mrs Griffin being a suicide risk.

Ms Mugwaga said Mrs Giffin had regularly expressed thoughts about harming herself and how she was plagued by suicidal thoughts.

Ms Mugwagwa told the inquest: “Every time I had a one-to-one with her, she only spoke of how she wanted to die.”

‎Head of hospitals (South) at Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Andres Patino, was asked by assistant coroner Belinda Cheney how a ligature could have been attached to a door frame in a mental health unit.

Mr Patino said that at the time “it had already been identified that you could secure a ligature to the main bedroom door,” essentially via a door pin visible at the top of the frame.

However the inquest also heard that this was a problem experienced by a lot of similar hospitals due to the designs of two-way opening doors.

The coroner, addressing Mr Patino, said: “I wonder, someone who has expressed suicidal ideation and has talked about ligatures and harming others, would it not have been appropriate to have searched her room on a daily basis to remove certain items?”

He answered: “I certainly would have expected some discussion about what kind of items were in her room.”

He added that the hospital had since conducted a review of the way it carries out risk assessments, which is ongoing.

The inquest was set to conclude today.