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‘Desperation’ drove hospital escape

Thursday, 6th September, 2018

By Craig Brealey

A mental health patient who absconded from the hospital did so because she was desperate for a cigarette, a nurse told a coroner’s inquest yesterday.

Christine Young had been admitted after suffering a psychotic episode in April 2016 and has not been seen since she wandered naked into the bush just off the Silverton road on the city’s outskirts.

The inquest was told that Ms Young (40) was a diagnosed schizophrenic who had been admitted to hospital several times during her adult life and had absconded before.

On April 22 she was detained and treated under the Mental Health Act after police found her injured and severely distressed.

The nurse in charge of the Mental Health Unit that afternoon, Jane Stephens, told the inquest that, as far as she could remember, the unit was “full of patients” and that the normal changeover of staff meeting was abandoned because Ms Young kept knocking on the door and asking to be let out for a cigarette.

Ms Stephens, a nurse of 27 years’ experience, said she was so agitated that she consulted a doctor who granted Ms Young 15 minutes’ unescorted leave for a smoke.

“I was worried that she might not come back, but she did come back,” she said.

However, soon after that Ms Young demanded to be let out again, Ms Stephens said, and refused the offer of nicotine patches or an inhaler.

Ms Stephens said she asked her to wait until after tea, which was not far off, but she became “very, very agitated” and sat down a couple of metres from the main door.

To ensure she did not escape if someone came through the door, Ms Stephens said she asked a couple of nurses to keep an eye on her. But just then another patient asked to be let out, she said.

“I told the nurses to take them through the consulting room so they wouldn’t access the main door to the corridor, but they were taken through another door that’s always locked, and instead of telling me they went back to the main door.” 

As soon as the main door was opened, Ms Young dashed out, she said.

“She almost pushed the nurse in her desperation. She was moving very quickly down the corridor and I ran after her. I was calling out ‘Christine! Christine!”

Ms Stephens said she then alerted security and a man in the corridor said he would try to catch Ms Young but she got out through the Thomas Street entrance and ran away.

She said she called police and gave them a description of what Ms Young was wearing and phoned her mother and left a message.

Attempts were also made to call her friends and family, Ms Stephens said.

The following day staff were very upset that she was still missing, she said.

“We were mortified that she hadn’t been found.

“As the nurse in charge I felt responsible and felt terribly for Christine and her family.”

Since then, she said, the hospital had conducted a review and installed double doors in the Mental Health Unit and a smoking area.

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