Man harmed himself in King’s Lynn secure unit, inquest told

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An inquest has heard dangerous items were not taken from a South Wootton man by staff of the mental health unit which was caring for him before his death.

Christopher Higgins, who was 36, suffered a fatal injury on June 24, 2013, while he was a patient in the Fermoy unit, situated at Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

He died eight days later at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

During evidence at the hearing today, the court was told that blood had been seen on Mr Higgins’ hands several hours before the fatal incident occurred.

Janice Lawler, a clinical support worker for the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, who was on duty at the time, said he went into a toilet when he was asked what had happened.

After he failed to respond to further inquiries, the door was opened and Mr Higgins was found removing a dressing gown cord from around his neck.

A wound was also found on Mr Higgins’ neck, which he said he had inflicted using the buckle of a belt in his room.

The belt was then removed from the room and the incident reported to the nurse in charge of the ward at the time, the court was told.

Mrs Lawler said there was a protocol for staff to take items such as belts, dressing gown cords and shoelaces, from patients if it was believed they could use them to harm themselves, which would have been implemented at the discretion of trained medical staff.

She conceded there were concerns about Mr Higgins’ mental state because he had been admitted to the unit.

But, in response to questions from barrister Adam Straw, representing Mr Higgins’ family, she insisted: “I was not aware of any direction to remove dangerous items from Christopher.”

The court also heard the incident happened at around the time that Mr Higgins’ mother arrived to visit him.

Mrs Lawler said that, although she advised Mr Higgins to “clean himself up” before seeing his mother, he immediately followed her out to where his mother was.

The court also heard that Mr Higgins was being checked by staff four times each hour while in the unit.

Mrs Lawler said those checks were carried out at random points during each hour, rather than at set 15 minute intervals, in order to reduce the risk of a patient trying to harm themselves.

n The evidence was heard after the inquest had to be moved to a hotel because of noise from building works.

The session was held up for more than an hour due to concerns over the disturbance caused by construction workers on a site next door to the coroner’s court.

After attempts to halt the work failed, the hearing resumed in the nearby Lansdowne Hotel around 80 minutes later than planned.

Norfolk coroner Jacqueline Lake said: “I’m very sorry about the disruption and thank you for bearing with us.”

The inquest, which is expected to last until the end of next week, continues.