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£400,000 payout for failed suicide

PUBLISHED: 13:53 25 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:16 07 September 2010

Ben McPartland A MENTAL patient has been awarded £400,000 in compensation after failing in a dramatic suicide bid. Noel Davison, 48, threw himself in front of a tube at Highgate station but survived the attempt on his own life. He won the six-figure sum f

Ben McPartland

A MENTAL patient has been awarded £400,000 in compensation after failing in a dramatic suicide bid.

Noel Davison, 48, threw himself in front of a tube at Highgate station but survived the attempt on his own life. He won the six-figure sum from the public purse after claiming Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust failed to protect him from himself.

Nine days before his suicide attempt on January 22, 2004, he went 'absent without leave' from the former Waterlow Psychiatric unit at the Whittington Hospital on Highgate Hill, where he had been admitted as a voluntary patient. He survived with injuries including serious head wounds and pelvic fractures.

At the High Court on Tuesday the trust refused to admit liability but the NHS Litigation Authority agreed to pay him £400,000 in compensation.

The settlement has been welcomed by Highgate's Marjorie Wallace CBE, founder of mental health charity Sane. "We are glad they have agreed compensation - so they should," she said.

"We hope this will make psychiatric units much more careful in protecting the lives of their patients. It is not unusual for this to happen. People walk out of wards, sometimes due to a under staffing, sometimes due to a culture of not wanting to interfere with a person's liberty, and quite often it is down to not enough care in preventing people from leaving when they are disturbed or depressed and failing to carefully assess the risks they pose to themselves.

"Most people who are in a psychiatric unit have to be pretty seriously ill and you cannot expect them, particularly if they are severely depressed, psychotic or out of touch with reality to make rational judgements."

The High Court heard how Mr Davison, of Caledonian Road, had a "long-standing history of depression and anxiety." He was initially admitted to the unit as a voluntary patient in November 2003 after previously attempting suicide.

On January 2, 2004, he left without permission but returned six days later and stayed until he walked out 'without leave' on January 13.

His lawyers alleged negligence by medical staff in failing to take 'sufficient steps' to ensure that Mr Davison remained at the unit, or returned there following his second walk-out. It was also claimed they failed to properly assess his mental state.

Mr Davison's barrister, John Stevenson, claimed there would have been clear litigation risks involved had the case gone to a full trial, and said there were "good prospects of establishing breach of duty."

Scott Stevens, from the charity Camden Mental Health Consortium, fears psychiatric wards will become more oppressive as a result of the setttlement. "The nursing staff become more concerned and patients are treated more restrictively. Already wards are locked even when the patients are there voluntarily. Inevitably, this makes the wards look and feel more like prisons," he said.

Mr Justice David Steel said he was pleased a compromise had been reached and approved the settlement, including £65,000 for Mr Davison's "pain, suffering and loss of amenity".

The psychiatric ward has since closed and been replaced by the Highgate Mental Health Centre on Dartmouth Park Hill. A trust spokesman said: "The settlement brings the proceedings to a conclusion and we offer our very best wishes to Mr Davison for the future.

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