The family of a man who took his own life the day after he was refused a mental health assessment in a hospital accident and emergency department have received a settlement from Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.
Colchester General Hospital accepted that a crisis nurse was wrong to refuse to give TJ Pimm a full mental health assessment after she found out there was a warrant for his arrest because of a failure to attend a bail appointment.
Instead the nurse insisted that TJ, aged 30, who had a seven-year-old son, should attend a police station for a mental health assessment. TJ’s family claimed that the crisis nurse wrongly prioritised TJ being a police suspect over his mental health needs.
TJ left the hospital with his distressed mother, Karon Pimm. The following day, after he had told his probation officer that he was going to the police station to hand himself in, instead he took his own life.
TJ’s family took legal action against Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, claiming that the negligent refusal of care at Colchester General Hospital on 25 August 2016, when TJ was at risk of self-harm and suicide, led to him taking his own life. Lawyers representing the NHS Trust reached a settlement with TJ’s family, accepting there had been a breach of duty and TJ would have engaged in treatment on 25 August 2016 and would not have gone on to take his own life the following day.
A claim against North East London NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Lakes Mental Health Unit at Colchester General Hospital, was not accepted. TJ was referred to the Lakes on 8 August after he was transferred from Goodmayes Hospital when he was making threats to his probation officer to take his own life.
However, a psychiatrist at the Lakes concluded that TJ’s difficulties were a result of alcohol misuse and sent him home to make an appointment to see his GP. She told an inquest into TJ’s death that she had never been told that TJ’s mother had been calling the Lakes in a desperate attempt to speak with her.
The inquest jury concluded that adequate and appropriate steps were not taken to protect TJ’s life. TJ’s family claimed there was a failure to carry out a proper assessment under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act and also said North East London NHS Foundation Trust had breached Articles 2 and 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998, the right to life and the right to family life.
TJ, of Dovercourt, had a longstanding diagnosis of anxiety with depression and his mental health had fluctuated since 2010 when he separated from the mother of his son, a year after his birth. From November 2015, when he moved back to live with his parents, he displayed severe symptoms of depression and often spoke about ending his life.
In December 2015 he was sentenced to a community order and fined £500. He kept appointments with his probation officer and spoke with her about the idea of ending his life.
In early August 2016, in breach of his community order, TJ tried to contact his girlfriend and on 7 August was charged with harassment and bailed to appear in court 23 August.
On 8 August TJ tried to take his own life and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. He was taken to Goodmayes Hospital in Ilford then transferred to the Lakes Mental Health Unit at Colchester Hospital.
Following his discharge with a self-referral for Open Road alcohol services, TJ’s mood was very low and continued to talk about suicide. He was drinking heavily and after he failed to attend his bail appointment on 23 August, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
On 25 August, TJ was very distressed and in the late afternoon was able to see his probation officer who took him to A&E at Colchester General Hospital. There, he was seen by the crisis nurse who said TJ would need to sober up before he could be assessed. When TJ’s mother arrived and explained about the arrest warrant, the crisis nurse told the inquest that this “compromised” her position. The probation officer told the inquest that the nurse said the warrant meant TJ should be arrested and have a mental health assessment by a criminal justice mental health team.
TJ left the hospital with his mother and left to spend the night at his girlfriend’s house.
The following day, he saw his probation officer and told her he was going to hand himself into the police station. TJ was found dead later that day.
Following the settlement of the legal claim, Karon Pimm said:
“TJ’s family believe he was badly let down by medical professionals, especially at Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust: the crisis nurse at Colchester General Hospital should have recognised that TJ was in desperate need of help but instead it was decided that the arrest warrant was more important than his dire state of mental health. As a result he was sent away – process was considered a higher priority than saving my brother’s life. We hope that this legal case helps the medical professions to understand that a person’s need for emergency life-saving medical help should always come before red tape.”
“I am glad that Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust has accepted there was a breach of duty on the day that TJ reached out for help. As the inquest jury concluded, adequate and appropriate steps were not taken to protect TJ’s life. His family believe that if TJ had received the proper care he was entitled to expect at Colchester General Hospital A&E department, he would still be with them today. I am pleased to have been able to agree a settlement with the trust on behalf of TJ’s family. We know that other families might find themselves in similar situations which is why it is essential that steps are taken to improve mental health services to try to ensure further tragedies are prevented.”