Allegations of a patient murdering his wife, confidential details being dumped in a skip and staff being held hostage are among a record number of serious incidents being investigated by a mental health trust in the North East.
Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust logged 50 serious incidents in just three months between April and June this year compared with 31 in the period of 2012 – a rise of 62% and the highest number of any quarter.
Other incidents include patients committing suicide while on day release, a nurse threatened with a 12-inch knife and letters sent out to the wrong patients.
The greatest increase in incidents was in unexpected deaths, which rose from 22 in April to June 2012 to 33 in the same three months of 2013, and is blamed in part on the economic downturn.
The information has been published in a safety report to the trust’s board of directors.
Unions say staff are working “flat out and beyond” and have raised concerns about cost savings being forced on the trust.
Among the incidents reported is the alleged homicide by a patient on May 1 2013. The report states: “A patient and his wife found deceased at their home address. Early indications are that he has killed his wife and then taken his own life.” It adds that a complaint has been received from their daughter and is currently under investigation.
Another involves a breach of patient confidentiality, with “multiple items” found in a skip, including items “ with patient and staff names on, a working door fob, medication boxes with names on, staff signatures, risk information notes, staff phone numbers, social circumstances report and staff and patient photos”.
Patient confidentiality was also breached when an apprentice was given letters to send to GPs and copy letters for patients to send to various addresses with the printed envelope attached. The wrong patient letters went into the wrong envelopes.
A charge nurse was also threatened with 12-inch knife by a patient smelling of alcohol and staff were briefly held hostage in a therapy room by a suicidal patient. According to a report on the incident, the staff member tried eight times to ring the crisis service. A care co-ordinator was eventually contacted and initially couldn’t attend but agreed to come later. When she did arrive, the patient became angry and locked the door, holding staff hostage. The police were then called.
Among the unexpected deaths was the case of a patient who left a ward at 9am for a period of escorted leave and hours later took their own life. A patient was also due to be visited at home by a community psychiatric nurse, but on arrival the nurse found the patient had taken their own life.
A spokesperson for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust said: “Mental health trusts across England and Wales use different approaches to the reporting of serious incidents.
“We have always had an open approach to incident reporting and this is illustrated by the publication of our recent safety report. Unlike some organisations, it is our policy to report all deaths of patients in contact with our services, including those which later prove to be due to natural causes or by accident.
“Over the past year the trust has taken on additional services including the treatment of people with drug and alcohol problems, which has been reflected in this year’s statistics.
“We are concerned about the number of incidents for this quarter but have seen no links between these incidents other than the fact that a number of them involve people with illnesses relating to drug and alcohol misuse.
“We cannot comment on individual investigations, but each incident is investigated thoroughly and if there are lessons to be learnt, these are implemented promptly.”
The trust also attributed the rise in unexpected deaths to a national increase in suicides which it is believed are linked to the economic downturn.
Trevor Johnson, Unison’s lead for health in the North East said: “We have been working very closely with the trust to address these issues of patient and staff safety and the trust has carried out a number of reviews into its services.
“Reporting has got much better since Mid Staffordshire and so we are learning from every incident. All the members of staff are working flat out and beyond in often extremely difficult circumstances. Of course we would like to see more staff, but at the same time as demand on services is increasing, the trust is being asked to make savings.”