Young woman found hanging in Sunderland hospital ‘may have been hoping to be discovered’

The entrance to Cherry Knowle Hospital at Ryhope.
The entrance to Cherry Knowle Hospital at Ryhope.
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A TROUBLED young woman may have been “expecting and hoping” that staff at a Wearside psychiatric unit would discover her in time to save her life on the day she was found hanging, an inquest heard.

Paige Bell died eight days after being found unconscious at Cherry Knowle hospital, and a hearing into her death yesterday heard the way the bedsheet she used had been left hanging over a door, was consistent with somebody “sending a message” that they wanted to be found.

A jury at Sunderland Coroner’s Court heard the 20-year-old had been plucked from the wrong side of the railings on the Wearmouth Bridge just after midnight on August 6 and been taken to the hospital by police for an assessment under the Mental Health Act.

She was “highly agitated” and had to be kept in handcuffs for eight hours.

Giving evidence to the jury on day four of the inquest, serious incident investigator Peter Traynor said a pattern had emerged after previous self-harm incidents.

Paige had cut herself twice at the unit before she was found unconscious and fatally injured on the East Willows ward at 4pm.

Both incidents had coincided with times she knew staff would be coming to check on her as part of the hospital’s observations procedure. After each event the level of observation had been downgraded, the inquest jury previously heard.

At the time of the incident she was being observed every hour.

She never regained consciousness prior to her death eight days later.

Mr Traynor, who works for Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and is also a psychiatric nurse, said Paige had a history of self-harm and apparent suicide attempts.

Paige, who had previously been locked out of her room and kept in communal areas, had been allowed back in, as she was tired.

A member of staff had last checked on her at 3.15pm, while she was asleep.

At 3.25pm, Paige walked along the corridor to ask staff to light a cigarette, and returned to her room.

She was found hanging at 4pm by a member of staff during the hourly observation slot.

“The fact that the sheet was so far down the outside of the door is not characteristic of, and act of, somebody who wants to hide what they are doing, but somebody sending a message,” Mr Traynor said.

“From her history, we can see that she has taken lots and lots of overdoses and gone to hospital. She has always been ensuring her own safety. She has lacerated herself at times she was likely to be found.

“One of the things about hanging is how little people understand about it and the risks involved. It leads to a very rapid death. You can be unconscious within 10 to 15 seconds. Paige may have been expecting, even hoping, to be discovered. That certainly is a possibility.”

Mr Traynor said that, in the wake of Paige’s death, the trust is reviewing its observations policy.

He also said the hospital had introduced a street triage initiative, meaning people can be assessed without going to hospital if they don’t need to.

He said there was no fault regarding observation.

The hearing is expected to last for two weeks.

‘I went to check on Paige first’

A NURSING assistant told of the moment she found Paige Bell hanging from a hospital door.

Giving evidence at the inquest into the death of the 20-year-old, support worker Karen Murtha said she arrived at Paige’s room at 4pm on August 6.

“I went to check on Paige first,” she said. “I can’t give a rational answer as to why. It was just the way it went when I was doing the observations.

“On approaching the bedroom, I noticed the tail-end of a sheet on top of the door. It was about a third of the way down and had a knot on it.

“She had locked herself in, and when I unlocked the door I heard her fall to the floor.”

Ms Murtha said she activated the alarm and laid Paige flat on the floor as colleagues rushed to her and CPR was begun.

Paige was taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital, where she died eight days later from oxygen starvation to the brain.

Paige had been let back into her room earlier that afternoon after she had been kept in communal areas so that she could be observed.

It was clinical lead Deborah Jackson who unlocked Paige’s door after consultant psychiatrist Dr Ashok Sharma decided to discharge her from her section under the Mental Health Act.

She agreed to stay voluntarily until a community care plan could be drawn up the following day.

Ms Jackson said: “Paige had asked if her bedroom door could be unlocked because she was tired as she wanted to have a lie-down. She had been up since 3am.

“I went to open Paige’s door and remained with her for a little bit. I offered her a blanket, then left.”