Over 100 mental health service users suffered ‘sudden deaths’

Freedom of Information request reveals HSE figures on ‘sudden and unexplained deaths’

James Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown. There were reports of two suicides there in the space of a week earlier this year. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

James Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown. There were reports of two suicides there in the space of a week earlier this year. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

More than 100 mental health service users died by suicide or in “suspicious circumstances” over a five-year period up to the end of 2015, the Health Service Executive has confirmed.

In response to a Freedom of Information request from The Irish Times, the mental health services division of the HSE said it could not give a breakdown of suicides between 2011 and 2016, as deaths are not categorised until after a coroner’s inquest has been conducted.

The HSE also said it had no role in compiling data from the results of inquests.

However, it was able to provide statistics on so-called “sudden and unexplained deaths”, showing 110 people died by suicide or “in suspicious circumstances as a result of violence or misadventure on the part of others or from any cause other than natural illness or disease” between 2011 and 2015.

Most of these relate to 2014 when 29 cases of sudden and unexplained deaths were recorded, a figure which dropped to 13 the following year. Next highest was 26 deaths in 2011, followed by 19 in 2012 and 23 in 2013. Figures for 2016 were not available.

The HSE further clarified that, in some isolated cases, deaths recorded as being sudden and unexplained are later reclassified as having been natural and unavoidable following inquest.

It was also unable to confirm the number of people living in the community who had been referred to or treated by mental health services and later died by suicide.

Reporting mechanisms

This is in contrast to the broader reporting mechanisms in the UK where regional mental health trusts keep a record of sudden and unexpected deaths among all service users, both past and present.

In an answer to a parliamentary question by Sinn Féin TD Pat Buckley last week, the HSE said it does not collect figures for the number of suicides recorded on the grounds of public hospitals.

Mr Buckley said accurate data was needed in order to inform future practice and service provision within the health sector.

“I have spoken to countless families that tell stories of their loved ones being refused care at overcrowded A&E departments or being discharged only to take their lives within a day or two.

“Identifying the scale of the problem, the potential causes and risk factors will not solve the problem completely but only by acting with this information in mind can we truly tackle the problem effectively,” he said.

Mr Buckley said his query was prompted by reports of two suicides at Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown in the space of a week earlier this year.

One woman was found dead in a side-room of the hospital’s emergency department where she had been waiting to be discharged. This was followed by the death of a male patient on the hospital grounds a number of days later.