In a landmark decision, the family of a woman who committed suicide while she was a patient in a psychiatric hospital has won £10,000 in compensation from the NHS Trust responsible for her care.
Carol Savage, 50, absconded from the hospital in Essex and walked to the nearest railway station, where she threw herself under a train and was killed.
Before taking her own life, Mrs Savage had expressed suicidal thoughts and had also tried to act on them. On one occasion she had been found wandering between the cars on a main road. She had also reported hearing voices and expressed paranoid ideas about dangers to her family.
After Mrs Savage’s death, her family brought a claim against South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which was responsible for the hospital where she was a patient, under the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). They claimed that the hospital had failed to take the necessary measures to keep her safe and that the Trust had therefore violated her right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the HRA implements into UK law.
In court it was found that the Trust had failed to do all that was reasonably necessary to prevent Mrs Savage from harming herself. Staff at the hospital should have known she was at risk, but few of the nurses were aware of her history. The judge stated that an increased level of observation would have been sufficient to prevent her death.
The Trust, which had originally offered to pay £5,000 in compensation, was ordered by the court to pay £10,000 to Mrs Savage’s family.