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Health services not to blame over death of troubled father Ian Hamilton: coroner

By Luke Barnes

Published 04/11/2016

Ross, Elma and Charles Hamilton, brother and parents of Ian Hamilton
Ross, Elma and Charles Hamilton, brother and parents of Ian Hamilton
Ian Hamilton

A coroner has ruled that a man who took his own life hours after visiting a third hospital in five days was not failed by the system.

Father-of-two Ian Hamilton (38) died on the morning of March 12, 2013 - a few hours after being discharged from the Ulster Hospital.

He had spent the previous 12 hours in between hospitals, saying he had suicidal thoughts.

Staff at the Ulster said he was not suitable for psychiatric sectioning, and needed to seek help with addiction services.

According to a friend, Mr Hamilton seemed positive about getting help for addiction when he left.

Coroner Joseph McCrisken said he didn't think medical professionals could have done any more for him.

He added that, despite Mr Hamilton's belief that there was something wrong with him, no formal diagnosis was ever made.

He said: "All the mental health professionals said it was an alcohol and substance abuse problem.

"Mr Hamilton relied upon the 1998 diagnosis (by his GP, who said he had depression). He even managed to convince himself. He probably truly believed that he was mentally ill."

Professor Seena Fazel, an independent expert from the University of Oxford, reviewed the case and saw no shortcomings with the care provided.

Mr McCrisken extended his sympathies to the family and told them he didn't see what else they could have done to help Ian.

Mr Hamilton's family said they didn't blame medical staff for his death, but they hoped lessons had been learned.

Ross, Ian's brother, said: "Until the day he died the family believed there was never a proper diagnosis of what the illness was, we feel it slipped through the net.

"We felt there was something going on that could have gotten diagnosed.

"Ian did have some history of drink and drug problems, we're not denying that, but by no means was he an addict or, I feel, dependent on it."

Ross added that Ian's death was another example of Northern Ireland's suicide epidemic.

In 2015 there was a 19% increase in suicides in here, 77% of which were male.

He said: "The current health service doesn't appear to have the funding or staffing to deal with it.

"The health service is following protocol, but it's almost robotic. Their humanity side probably tells them something different, but there isn't the help or support or funding to allow them to help or explore."

Paul McCann, a solicitor representing the Hamiltons, said the evidence showed the health service needed to modernise.

He said: "The Assembly will have to provide proper facilities for people presenting with alcohol/drug difficulties and underlying mental health difficulties or a combination of both.

"The family feel there was a lost opportunity to help Ian because he did not meet a test set by legislation enacted 30 years ago. We fear, without a change in legislation, further lives will be lost."

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