Mother loses HSE negligence case over son’s death

THE mother of a 27-year-old man who killed himself after being discharged from a hospital psychiatric unit where he went following a deliberate overdose has lost her case against the HSE for allegedly failing to provide adequate care to her son.

The case was taken in the High Court in Dublin by Ellen Ann Orpen, 53, of Beaugreen, Dunkineely, Co. Donegal, a school traffic warden and auxiliary nurse, against the HSE. Evidence was given there was a history of suicide in the family.

Mr Justice Iarfhliath O’Neill said that as regards assessing the suicide risk he had come to the conclusion that neither the senior psychiatric officer on duty that night nor the consultant psychiatrist involved failed in their duty of care.

Dealing with the choice of options open to them, such as admission or discharge in the care of his sister Mary Ellen, he was quite satisfied the approach taken was entirely consistent with psychiatric practice.

The judge said the senior psychiatric officer had dealt with the suicide risk in an entirely appropriate manner. Faced with the risk of a psychiatric ward, which would have been a traumatic experience for a young person, or discharge into a caring relative such as his sister Mary Ellen, and bearing in mind he was to return the following day, it simply could not be said there was a failure by the HSE in their duty of care to Michael.

Mr Justice O Neill said Michael had denied any psychiatric illness in the family when questioned at the hospital. He had said he was attending an IT course, but had dropped out some days previously because he had been unable to cope and felt he was holding the class back. He felt his parents were annoyed with him in not settling in any position even though they never expressed such an opinion. While he had not taken any alcohol on the night he attended the hospital, he had reported having low moods following bouts of drinking. In addition he had indicated he had no intention of harming himself and had no suicidal inclination.

The judge said he was quite satisfied there was no breach of duty by the senior psychiatric officer or the consultant psychiatrist and had come to the conclusion that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate any breach of duty by the defendant and dismissed the action.

The court had heard that Michael Orpen had attended the Emergency Department of Letterkenny &General Hospital and the Department of Psychiatry there on the night of November 14, 2006, after taking a deliberate overdose of 50 tablets.

He was discharged at about 2am the following day and later that day attended Parkview Day hospital.

On the evening of November 16 he left his home and was reported missing on November 16, and on November 17 he was found dead in his car off Bruckless Pier in Co Donegal when the tide went out.


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