Mentally ill people are frequently at risk of self-harm but are entitled to expect that all reasonable safeguarding measures will be taken by professionals whose duty it is to care for them. The point was made by the case of a psychotic young man who was gravely injured when he leapt from a first-floor window.
The man was in his 30s when he jumped head first from the window at his family home. His catastrophic injuries left him paraplegic and cognitively impaired. He lost the ability to speak and requires 24-hour care. He was at the time being provided with community care by an NHS trust.
He had become increasingly paranoid and disturbed following the departure of his care coordinator, whose role it was to ensure that he did not slip through the cracks in the system. The coordinator was not replaced prior to the incident. A psychiatrist saw him and prescribed anti-psychotic medication, but he was not admitted to hospital.
His family was deeply anxious that he might harm himself and worked in shifts to provide a suicide watch. The tragedy unfolded after he ran from the family living room. His sister pursued him but was too late to prevent him jumping. Personal injury proceedings were later launched against the trust on the basis that, had he been properly monitored and supported in the community, the incident would not have occurred.
In denying liability, the trust argued, amongst other things, that the delay in putting a new care coordinator in place had neither caused nor contributed to the incident. It contended that the decision not to admit him to hospital was within the range of reasonable responses. Following negotiations, however, the trust agreed to a settlement whereby it would pay 52.5 per cent of the full value of his claim.
The High Court had no hesitation in approving the eminently sensible settlement of liability issues in the case. The amount of compensation payable to the man, which was bound to be very substantial, would be assessed at a further hearing, if not agreed. The Court praised his family for the immense support they had given him in circumstances that were very difficult to imagine.