A PATIENT at a psychiatric hospital in Chester hanged herself in a nearby woodland while on one of her 20 minute unsupervised breaks, an inquest heard.
Janet Esme Millar, 57, suffered with schizophrenia but her quality of life had been improving on the Rosewood rehabilitative unit at Bowmere Hospital on the Countess of Chester Health Park.
A trained hairdresser described as “bright” and “intelligent”, she was well-liked by the mental health staff that worked with her.
Jurors at Cheshire Coroner's Court in Warrington heard she had been moved from accommodation in the Wirral to Bowmere around six months before her death.
Giving evidence, staff said her state of mind was generally improving – despite some blips – and she had been put on a low observation level that allowed her to take eight unsupervised breaks of 20 minutes a day.
Rosewood is an 18-bed rehabilitative unit for men and women who are striving to regain a degree of independence.
Mrs Millar's sister, Professor Ann McNeill, who also acted as the family's advocate in court, raised several issues that she believed may have made her sister more distressed in the lead-up to her death on June 1, 2015.
A smoking ban at the site had led to Mrs Millar's cigarettes being confiscated on April 21 that year, something which as a heavy smoker caused her significant anxiety. The court heard that at the time she said she had “felt like hanging herself”.
Furthermore, her key fob, which allowed her in and out of the facility for her breaks, had also been taken away after she returned late on Saturday, May 30 – the day before she went missing. It was subsequently returned to her.
And a recent weekly 'decluttering' of her bedroom had also caused her anguish, as she liked to keep bags full of hand written notes, newspapers and other documents.
Mrs McNeil also claimed staffing levels were “unsafe” on the evening of May 31 as there were just three members of staff on duty. NHS guidance suggests the optimum staffing level is four – two qualified health workers and two unqualified.
That evening Mrs Millar left the facility on a break and was seen on CCTV walking towards the Countess of Chester Health Park, at the rear of the Bowmere Hospital.
When she didn't return by 8.20pm the alarm was raised and a search was undertaken. At 9pm police were called and Mrs Millar's body was discovered in woodland at 6.45am the next day.
Andrea Hughes, associate director of nursing at the Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CWP), said she had led a full inquiry following the death.
It found that there were aspects of Mrs Millar's experience that the trust “didn't get right”, she said, but these did not contribute to her death. A number of procedural and administrative changes are due to be implemented at the trust, included improved liaisons with patients' families, Mrs Hughes confirmed.
The inquest heard that Mrs Millar had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 22 and had superficially self-harmed in the past.
The illness sometimes left her hearing voices in her head and suffering from paranoid delusions, including the belief that the devil was accessing her room through a light.
Despite this, staff said she had improved considerably on the Rosewood unit, and would openly tell staff if she was feeling troubled or wanted more medication.
Debbie Ramsdale, a support worker at Bowmere for 20 years, broke down in tears as she gave her evidence to the court.
“She was a lovely lady; she was a character,” she said. “When she first came to us she looked like a bag lady, like she had been sleeping rough. She had a great sense of humour and was very bright. She was just a lovely person.
“The last time I saw her was about 7.50 pm [on May 31]. I knocked on her window...and she waved back. She seemed fine and settled. I've gone over and over it in my head, thinking 'did I miss something? Was there something I could have done?'.”
The jury concluded that Mrs Millar committed suicide by hanging herself.
See full story in the Chester Leader