Northern Ireland

Parents call for trust to secure mental health unit's grounds

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Media captionPatrick Campbell was extremely vulnerable and depressed when he was admitted to the mental health unit at the Ulster Hospital

The father of a mentally ill patient who took his life in the grounds of the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, has said he is demanding that management make the area more secure.

Maurice Campbell's son, Patrick, died after climbing over a fence at the rear of the hospital's mental health unit.

He was the second patient to die after scaling the fence in three years.

The South Eastern Health Trust said it was considering changes to the shape of the fence.

It is understood investigators raised concerns after the first death - James Fenton, 22, died in 2010.

Less than three years later, Patrick Campbell was admitted to the same ward, ward 27, at the Ulster Hospital.

While he had been mentally ill for several years, before his death in September 2013, his health had deteriorated.

Speaking from his home in County Down, Maurice Campbell, told the BBC that it seems no lessons have been learned from Mr Fenton's death.

He said it was a tragedy his own son died after scaling the same fence.

"Patrick was not the first person to leave that ward over that fence and not the first person to die. I demand that he's the last. They have to do something to make that place secure," Mr Campbell said.

Patrick Campbell, who was 26, was extremely vulnerable and depressed.

Mr Campbell said his son asked to be admitted to hospital as he did not trust himself at home.

"A few days before he died we managed to push our way into the NHS. While at first he wanted to be treated at home - he then asked to go into hospital," he said.


"I believe he went into hospital to stop himself taking his own life. He thought he would be safe in the hospital."

Two nights before Patrick died, his family had voiced concerns about Patrick's mental state - he had self-harmed in the ward.

According to his parents, at that point he was placed on suicide watch.

Image caption Geraldine Campbell said losing her son was hard enough, but knowing it could have been prevented made it a double tragedy

But hours before he died, while smoking in the garden, Patrick got away from a nurse and managed to climb over a perimeter fence.

He then ran to a nearby building where he fell.

Geraldine Campbell said losing her son was hard enough, but knowing it could have been prevented made it a double tragedy.

"I am so angry and I am so disappointed... that fence wasn't high enough and he wasn't the first to cross it, but I sincerely hope nobody else can leave that ward or that garden by those means."

Brendan Whittle, director of adult services at the South Eastern Health Trust, said its initial findings into Mr Campbell's death found that nursing staff and staff on the ward could not have prevented his death.

"Nevertheless we are doing a detailed review - if that review identifies that there are changes we can make - such as putting a curve into the fence or making alternative arrangements to the fence - those will be actioned," he said.

James Fenton, who was also a patient in ward 27, went missing at the beginning of July 2010.

It was ten weeks before his body was found less than 40 metres away in the hospital grounds.

A report by the Police Ombudsman criticised the PSNI investigation.

The BBC understands that investigators involved in Mr Fenton's death believed much more could have been done to make it more difficult to climb over the fence.


It is understood that ombudsman staff were told that putting barbed wire on top of the fence would not be appropriate as it would create a prison atmosphere.

A source told the BBC that an internal review conducted by the South Eastern Health Trust found no fault with its approach or the actions of staff into Mr Fenton's death.

Mr and Mrs Campbell have met senior managers at the South Eastern Health Trust.

At that meeting they assured the family that the boulders in the garden would be removed - that has since happened.

"There was a boulder beside the fence which he was able to jump on to to get over the fence," said Mrs Campbell.

Image caption Maurice Campbell appealed to Health Minister Edwin Poots to focus on mental health care provision

"There's been no response to our letter demanding changes to a fence which didn't protect a vulnerable young man who needed to be cared for and who needed to be kept safe from himself."

According to Maurice Campbell, the trust said that Patrick was not being kept in a secure unit.

Despite this, staff use electronic passes to access the unit.

When families visit loved ones the door to the ward was locked.

Mr Campbell said while access to the unit was secure, it defeated the purpose when patients could get out over a wall.

The family were also told that while CCTV cameras were operating they were not being monitored.

Mr Campbell appealed to Health Minister Edwin Poots to focus on mental health care provision.

Mr Whittle said the purpose of the fence was to provide security but also privacy for patients.

"Initially following Mr Campbell's death, arrangements were made for the outside area in terms of the position of some of the garden furniture that would make it less easy to scale the garden fence," he said.

"We do need to look at how the fence will be potentially changed in the future, we're looking at options as to whether a curved fence may be a more appropriate way of going forward, but in the meantime, we've ensured that some of the things that were in the garden which could have been used to scale the wall, that those have been taken away."