Family hope for Bethlem Royal Hospital changes after overdose death
The family of a troubled mental health patient who died after taking an overdose hours after being allowed to leave hospital hope her death could lead to better care for vulnerable people.
Nicola Matthews, 39, took a cocktail of drugs on the night she left Bethlem Royal Hospital, where doctors judged there were no grounds to detain her despite her having overdosed the previous day.
At an inquest in her death on Wednesday, coroner Roy Palmer recorded an open verdict but criticised the hospital's procedure for discharging patients.
South London Coroner's Court heard Miss Matthews, of Pixton Way, Forestdale, suffered borderline personality disorder and had been sectioned "many times".
Two days before her death she was admitted to Bethlem - run by South London and Maudsley (SLAM) NHS Trust - on October 14, 2010, having swallowed around 80 psychiatric tablets.
A junior doctor initially recommended she be sectioned but consultant psychiatrist Jane Boydell revoked the order.
She told the court: "She was looking forward to the future. She was definitely not suicidal."
Miss Matthews left hospital on October 15 to stay with her boyfriend, Grant Walker, who found her unconscious in the early hours of the next morning. She was taken to Croydon University Hospital, where she died.
Dr Palmer said it would be "a long stretch" to blame SLAM for Miss Matthews' death, but expressed concern the hospital had not given her a date to return or provided Mr Walker with details of her care plan.
He told the trust to "give some thought" to a more formal discharge system, after Lou Hellard, deputy director of clinical service delivery for inpatients and complex care, admitted "nothing had changed" in the hospitals procedures since Miss Matthews' death.
Shirley Stevenson, Miss Matthews' mum, said the family were "content" the coroner agreed she had not committed suicide. She said: "We don't believe she had any intention to end her life.
"Nicola was a loving and caring person who had difficulties she struggled to deal with. She had the support of her family who always cared for her very much.
"The inquest has got us some closure and we've now got a better understanding of what went on. Nothing can bring Nicola back but we want to ensure that what happened to no other family has to go through this again.
"Even though Nicola died three years ago, it is clear from what the coroner said that he still has concerns about the way the trust communicates with vulnerable patients.
"We hope that procedures will now be put in place so that Nicola's death will not have been in vain. Hopefully that can leave a lasting testament to Nicola's life."
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