Dad struggling with his mental health died hours after asking hospital staff for a bed

A dad who asked for a bed at a mental health hospital died hours after being told he would not be admitted, an inquest heard.
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Darren McHugh, 39, told mental health professionals he was hearing voices, felt paranoid and wanted to be treated on a mental health ward.

He thought an inpatient bed was being found – but was then offered mental health treatment at home instead.

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An inquest at Bolton Coroner’s Court heard Darren was told by staff at Wigan Infirmary on June 11 that he did not have psychosis – which he believed had returned after receiving the diagnosis two years earlier.

He declined home treatment and he and his family were escorted from the hospital by security after expressing “high emotions”.

Darren was found dead at his home in Westleigh on June 12. A post-mortem examination confirmed he died by hanging.

The inquest heard Darren felt anxious and paranoid in the weeks before his death and believed his neighbours were plotting to kill him.

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His partner Louise Tither said she tried to reassure him that was not true, but he did not believe her. He stayed awake all night and did not eat.

On June 4 he told her he thought he had psychosis and the next day he went to A&E after taking an overdose of tablets.

He called a mental health helpline after being discharged and described the overdose as a “wake-up call”, saying he would not do it again. He spoke about his supportive family, ways to cope with his feelings and agreed to see his GP.

Darren, a warehouse operative, saw his GP on June 8 – taking a bag packed with his belongings – and asked for help with his mental health, as well as a lump on his chest.

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GP Dr Khawaja said Darren demanded to be admitted to hospital and reported not feeling safe at home.

He said: “One thing that was very evident from the outside was that he was scanning the entire room and he couldn’t keep eye contact directly with me. He looked very anxious.”

Dr Khawaja spoke to a senior colleague and then contacted the mental health urgent response team about Darren.

He told the inquest it was agreed Darren would be phoned later that day to arrange a bed for him.

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He prescribed diazepam to calm him and an appointment was made at Atherleigh Park on June 11.

But on June 10, Darren went missing and police had to be called. He later phoned his mum to say he was okay and then asked his son to collect him from Manchester, so he could go to the appointment.

Darren and his family went to Atherleigh Park on June 11 and staff referred him to the home-based treatment team so he could be assessed and considered for a hospital admission.

His family believed a bed would be found on a mental health unit.

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The inquest heard he was told to go to A&E if he did not feel safe at home in the meantime and that it could lead to a bed being found more quickly, so the family went straight to Wigan Infirmary.

But once there, Darren faced a long wait before he was seen by Rebecca Hill, senior nurse practitioner, and Rita Horken, mental health liaison nurse.

They told the coroner he would not get a bed more quickly by going to A&E and they had processes to follow. They said an appointment had been made with the home-based treatment team for the following day, but his family disputed this.

They said Darren reported hearing voices at home, said he was not feeling suicidal and he wanted a mental health bed.

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Ms Horken said he had capacity, risks had not changed since his appointment at Atherleigh and she did not believe he had a condition that needed mental health care at that time.

He was told a bed was not being found for him and instead he should receive treatment at home.

Ms Horken said: “It was discussed about the crisis home treatment team, which Darren didn’t want at that time, he wanted to be admitted to hospital.

"He didn’t present with any enduring mental health issue at that time for us to put him in for a mental health hospital admission.”

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She also said that they had to look at the “least restrictive” option for treatment.

Ms Hill said while Darren did not have typical symptoms of psychosis, he did need support with his mental health which could have been given at home.

"There wasn’t enough evidence there to warrant that admission,” she said.

The inquest heard that voices became raised and concerned hospital staff pressed a panic alarm, leading to Darren and his family being escorted from the hospital.

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Darren’s family accused the mental health staff of being “robotic” in the way they dealt with him.

His sister Alexandra McHugh told the coroner she sent him messages on the morning of June 12 asking if he was okay and saying she would help him.

She called a mental health team to ask for help and they gave her a number for Darren to call.

She spoke to Darren at lunchtime and he said he could not believe what the hospital staff had said, as they had been his “last hope”.

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Miss McHugh tried to call him again later but received no response. When he did send a text message, he said he was going and to not let his child in the house.

She found his body at his home at around 6pm, along with letters and a family photograph.

Tests carried out after his death showed Darren had taken paracetamol, codeine and diazepam, while a cannabis metabolite was also found.

The inquest was adjourned until Friday, December 16.

If you need to speak to someone, call Samaritans at any time on 116 123.

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