Northern Ireland news

Highest level probe into patient's suicide in psychiatric unit

The Bluestone inpatient unit at Craigavon Area Hospital is at the centre of a health service investigation following a patient suicide
Seanín Graham

THE highest level health service investigation has been ordered into the circumstances surrounding the suicide of a vulnerable patient in a top Northern Ireland psychiatric unit.

Police have also been alerted to the case, with CCTV footage shared with them from a ward at the Bluestone unit based at Craigavon Area Hospital.

Such is the level of concern that the Department of Health has intervened and sought written "assurances" from Southern health trust chiefs about the management of the patient after senior department officials were contacted by a relative.

It is understood the patient died in May within 24 hours of being admitted to the facility.

A spokeswoman for the Southern Health and Social Care Trust confirmed that a Level 3 Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) independent review has been initiated.

"We have been liaising with the family directly during this sad time and they have been invited to take part in the review process which will be managed by an independent chair," she said.


“CCTV footage from the ward has been retained and shared with the PSNI. We continue to liaise with the Department of Health on this issue to respond to their queries."

The development comes seven months after it emerged the modern £12 million unit was at the centre of an independent review after whistleblower staff raised the alarm about care standards including the over-use of restraint and seclusion.

Bullying of some staff was also alleged alongside a culture of 'cronyism', "lack of compassionate leadership" and poor management.

The modern mental health 74-bedded inpatient unit was opened in 2008.

While last year's Royal College of Psychiatrists review identified no safeguarding issues, it made a raft of recommendations to improve services.

Many Bluestone staff have been praised for care standards but the facility also came under the the spotlight when a psychiatric nurse based in the unit was jailed for nine months in 2018 after he punched a patient three times and broke his nose.

The Irish News understands that a second patient attempted suicide in a Bluestone ward last autumn, which led to further concerns about management's risk assessment for vulnerable inpatients.

When asked to comment on the case and what has issues had prompted the department to write to the Southern trust, a department spokesman said they were unable to disclose specific details in order to protect patient confidentiality.

But he added: "The Department can, however, confirm it has sought reassurance from the Trust about issues that will be addressed by the SAI, following communication from a relative of the patient who sadly died.

"We have also sought confirmation that the family of the individual will be involved, in line with regional policy, and that the Trust is taking any immediate steps that are appropriate. The Department wishes to express our sincere condolences to the family of the deceased."

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