The hour delay that could have ended in daughter's death

Warning: This story contains the depiction of an event which some may find distressing.

By Kevin Janiak
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 1:56 pm
NHS Borders' Huntlyburn facility.
NHS Borders' Huntlyburn facility.

A horrified Kelso mother has raised “serious concerns” over the safety of patients at Huntlyburn Psychiatric Hospital in Melrose, claiming staff’s hesitancy in reporting her 22-year-old daughter missing could have led to her losing her life.

The daughter, who has borderline personality disorder and bulimia, was a high-risk inpatient in the facility last week, and was allowed to go for a walk unaccompanied at 4pm on Friday, February 2.

Her mother says that when she did not return at 5pm, staff should have alerted her family and reported her missing to police, but she did not receive a call until 6.08pm … and in that hour the daughter had bought paracetamol and razor blades, walked to a cliff near Newstead, took an overdose of the pills, cut herself and tried to jump into the river.

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Her mother said: “As she jumped, she realised she didn’t want to die and tried to grab some of the branches and somehow managed to stop her fall on a ledge 20 feet below, but she couldn't get back up.”

By this time, a full-scale search was under way, and she was found, but they were unable to bring her up.

She was eventually saved by a mountain rescue team, and taken back to the Borders General Hospital at 10pm for treatment for her overdose.

The mother said: “I asked why it took over an hour for them to call me when my daughter was missing. I was told that they followed procedures and alerted me as soon as they realised she was missing.

“Again, I asked why this was not done ‘immediately’ as it says on the paperwork. I was told it was a busy time – I asked why then was she allowed out at a busy time – she shrugged.

"I pointed out that this hour could be the difference between life and death. I was told to try not to worry as most patients come back.”

"I don’t want to get anyone in to trouble but because I think the vulnerable people in our community deserve better than this – my daughter deserves better.

"I want Huntlyburn to acknowledge that they should have raised the alarm an hour earlier, and that my daughter receives and apology from Huntlyburn that they failed in their duty of care for her.”

"I also want those in charge at Huntlyburn agree to take appropriate steps to ensure that a situation like this does not occur again.​​​​​​​”

She added: “The emergency services were amazing and I cannot thank them enough.”

A spokesperson for NHS Borders said: “We are always keen to hear from people about their experience of care provided by NHS Borders. If we have not met the expectations of patients or their family members or carers, direct contact with them enables us to have a dialogue about what has happened in order to establish the facts and consider all perspectives.

“To protect patient confidentiality we are unable to make any comments specific to this incident but can make an assurance that this information has been followed up with the team involved.”​​​​​​​

The Southern has withheld the identity of the patient and her mother.