AN INQUEST into the deaths of two local psychiatric ward patients who took fatal drug overdoses heard how a member of staff had overheard the duo chatting about drug-taking 48 hours earlier.
The staff member, who worked on another ward, raised the alarm about Paul Harden and Christopher West with bosses on Peasley Cross Hospital’s Taylor Ward but, crucially, no room searches were ordered.
Police subsequently found a stash of morphine in one of the duo’s socks.
Mr Harden, 25, of Haydock, and father-of-two Mr West, 36, of Atherton, were both pronounced dead in the early hours of October 29, 2010.
Staff at the 17-bed in-patient facility had tried in vain to resuscitate the tragic pair after finding them both unresponsive in their rooms.
A three-day inquest at Bootle Town Hall heard how Mr Harden and Mr West both died some time between 11pm and 4am that night - but should have been on 30-minute and 15-minute observations, respectively.
A joint investigation was launched at the time by the 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust – which runs the Taylor Ward – and the police, but no criminal charges were ever brought.
An inquest jury also cited “inadequate” record-keeping as a key failing on the ward before a coroner recorded a narrative verdict.
At the time, Mr Harden’s mother, Michelle, who has since passed away - with friends saying she “died of a broken heart” - told how her son had only been admitted to the ward because he was beside himself with grief at the death of his five-year-old son.
Legh Vale Primary School pupil Elliot Harden passed away in February 2010 from complications arising from a brain tumour, which his family claimed went undiagnosed.
That tragedy, Michelle said, sent her son, an ex-soldier, into a vicious spiral of depression.
She said: “I lost my son and my grandson in the space of eight months. Paul had been getting better on the Taylor Ward. He was starting to talk about Elliot, putting weight on and even having a little laugh and joke with us.
“But I want to know how on earth he got hold of morphine?
“The records show that Paul took his sleeping tablets at 11.30pm and had a cigarette before going to bed at midnight. But five hours later he was dead.”
A spokesman for the Five Boroughs Partnership NHS Trust said: “The events of October 29, 2010, were deeply tragic. We offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Christopher West and Paul Harden.
“We recognise both families should have been better communicated with and supported in the immediate aftermath of their terrible loss. We offer our sincere apologies to them. We have developed clear guidance for staff as a result.
“We accept the findings of the jury. We conducted an internal investigation immediately after the incident and have already reviewed our Drug and Alcohol, Observation, Search, Record Keeping and Resuscitation policies and procedures.
“All actions have been fully implemented.”