Sister of Galway man found dead appeals to hospital for answers
CCTV footage showing patient leaving psychiatric unit not initially supplied, says family
University Hospital Galway: Ray Walsh was found dead in the grounds of a Galway school eight days after leaving the hospital’s psychiatric unit. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.
The sister of a Galway man whose body was found eight days after he had been reported missing from University Hospital Galway’s (UHG) psychiatric unit has appealed to management to ensure no family has to endure such an ordeal again.
Ray Walsh, who would have been 41 years old next month, was found dead in the grounds of a Galway city secondary school on August 12th. Mr Walsh, from Mervue, had checked into UHG’s psychiatric unit on July 30th and went missing on August 4th.
His sister Michelle Coyne said he had been suffering from depression and had expressed suicidal thoughts when he reported to the unit on July 30th.
She said following his disappearance, the family was not initially given access to CCTV footage which showed him leaving over a fence.
Hospital management informed the family that there was CCTV footage of the front of the building only and it did not record Mr Walsh’s movements, said Ms Coyne.
The additional footage was supplied eight days later when a request was made through the Garda.
“Within 30 minutes of examining this footage, Ray was picked up on it, and we were able to pinpoint more accurately where he was heading,” Ms Coyne said.
“We had been searching for a man wearing a hoodie, but the CCTV footage showed that he was wearing pyjamas.”
“We were also shown coded locks, and the fence, and management couldn’t tell me how he had left,”she said. “We were led to believe the unit was secure.”
“I am not saying that we could have prevented what happened, but perhaps it could have saved us eight days of terrible anguish,”she said.
She said the family was looking for answers and improvements, as it would like to ensure that “no one endures this ordeal again.”
Under the Mental Health Act, voluntary patients have a right to personal freedom, and the Mental Health Commission must be notified if a patient is to be “re-graded” to involuntary. The UHG facility is not a secure unit.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) said on Friday it wished to extend its “deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the recently deceased patient”.
“Out of respect for any patient’s privacy the HSE cannot comment on the individual circumstances of a patient’s care,” it said, but confirmed that the Mental Health Commission had been informed of Mr Walsh’s death.
The HSE said “as in the case in any sudden, unexpected death in the mental health services”, it would undertake a “full systems analysis investigation”. It wold liaise “directly” with the family as part of this.
The HSE said it would consider “in detail” any recommendation arising from this report, when complete, or from the coroner’s inquest when it takes place, and would “follow up as appropriate”.
“Galway Roscommon Mental Health Service is available to meet with the family to discuss any concerns they may have or to offer any support they may need following the loss of their loved one,”it said.
The HSE would not comment on a report by the Galway City Tribune of other incidents involving patients seeking psychiatric help who had allegedly been refused admission through the hospital’s emergency department.
Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has called for a detailed investigation into how the UHG psychiatric unit is run, including staffing levels, resources and the admissions policy.
Staffing issues at the Galway unit were raised by the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) on several occasions over the past year after the closure of a new €2.8 million acute psychiatric unit in Ballinasloe, east Galway, without adequate alternatives having been provided in the community.
The union had warned of the severe pressure this would put on UHG, and said it was against the spirit of the Government’s mental health policy, Vision for Change.