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Mum shot herself after hospital release

PUBLISHED: 12:54 04 December 2007 | UPDATED: 18:30 26 February 2010

Alan Hammond with his wife Sheila

Alan Hammond with his wife Sheila

A DEVASTATED husband whose wife committed suicide may sue the mental health trust which treated her after a coroner criticised it for “astonishing” failures in her care.

A DEVASTATED husband whose wife committed suicide may sue the mental health trust which treated her after a coroner criticised it for “astonishing” failures in her care.

Alan Hammond said he may issue a writ for clinical negligence against Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust after his wife, Sheila, shot herself in the stomach at their home in Spring Lane, Wickham Market.

Coroner Peter Dean criticised the trust's treatment of Mrs Hammond, a mother-of-two who suffered from depression as well as Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and ME, but did not find it had been negligent.

Former community and school nurse Mrs Hammond, 51, shot herself two days after she left St Clement's Hospital in Ipswich on September 1, 2005.

There was confusion over her discharge and over the purpose of a hospital meeting to discuss her care after which she was allowed to go home. It was not clear what decisions were made and her care co-ordinator was not present.

Dr Dean said: “The care did not meet the basic standards required. There seems to have been a lack of structure that seems to be quite worrying. It is astonishing that the discharge could have taken place in this way.”

However Dr Dean said the evidence did not allow him to link the trust's failings to Mrs Hammond's death.

The trust held an investigation and introduced a series of major changes to reduce the chance of someone dying in the same way.

Mrs Hammond was found dead by her husband on September 3. She had self-harmed before, Suffolk Coroner's District Court heard.

At the inquest psychiatric nurse Lynne Andrews admitted that paperwork which was meant to be signed by Mrs Hammond had not been.

To commit suicide Mrs Hammond used a gun kept locked in a cupboard at home. Her family was unaware she knew where the key was kept. The trust was unaware of the gun's existence.

Mr Hammond told the inquest: “I find it hard to believe that my wife was sent home considering she was still having suicidal thoughts.”

Now the trust has agreed to put the care co-ordinator of mental health patients in charge of care meetings in future, has invested in training for care co-ordinators and appointed a care training manager.

They have also introduced a system in which all patients will be discussed in community teams.

Mr Hammond said he may issue a writ against the trust before Christmas.

Mark Halladay, chief executive at Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, said: “I would like to extend the trust's condolences to Mrs Hammond's family and friends, both for their loss and for the pain they have been experiencing since her passing.

“We carried out an internal investigation at the time of Mrs Hammond's death and examined what we could learn from the events at the time. Over the two years since then, we have made a series of significant changes.”

The coroner recorder a verdict of suicide and said he would write to the trust.

After the inquest, Mr Hammond said: “Sheila was known to hundreds of children and their parents, throughout north and east Suffolk, and was held in high regard for her attention to care and enhanced pastoral activities to support and encourage youngsters across the whole school spectrum of age groups.

“Sheila was very close to her children, Emma, now 22, and Stuart, now 20, and joined them in many activities, ranging from off-road cycling to hill walking.

“Her death was all the more sad simply because we believe the very organisation to which she dedicated so much of her working life let her down at the very time she needed it most.”

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