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Chronic stomach pain drove woman to suicide

By Maureen Coleman

A Belfast woman found hanging in a hospital bathroom after several failed suicide attempts was determined to take her own life, Coroner John Leckey has told an inquest.

Kathleen Burns (42), from Brookvale Parade, had been admitted to the Mater Hospital for assessment after she tried to hang herself at the City Hospital where she was undergoing investigations for stomach pains.

Mrs Burns had been suffering from chronic pains for four years and had been diagnosed with depression in 2006.

Mater Hospital consultant psychiatrist Dr Anne McDonnell said Mrs Burns had undergone "an exhaustible raft of tests" to determine the cause of her gastro-intestinal symptoms but that no underlying illness had been discovered.

She said that the pain and discomfort Mrs Burns was feeling was genuine and that she was suffering from a condition called somatisation disorder, in which a patient suffers chronic pain without a definitive medical diagnosis.

Dr McDonnell said that Mrs Burns was suffering from depression as a result of this and found it difficult to accept that there was no underlying medical reason for her pain.

She told the inquest that the deceased had been admitted to the Mater Hospital's psychiatric unit, where she was assessed and it was felt that she did not meet the criteria to be transferred to a secure unit at Knockbracken.

Instead, Mrs Burns was looked after in the psychiatric unit at the Mater - an open door unit - where she received a "high level of care and support ".

On the day, Mrs Burns took her own life, staff said they noticed nothing unusual about her demeanour. Dr McDonnell said that she felt Mrs Burns had been engaging more with staff and that she was "more forthcoming".

The inquest heard that on January 17, Mrs Burns left the psychiatric ward and made her way to a bathroom in a surgical ward, where she used a scarf to try to hang herself.

A ward sister who did not know the patient discovered her and told the inquest she also found two suicide notes at the scene.

Mrs Burns was transferred to intensive care but died 23 days later.

During the inquest Mater medical staff were asked why Mrs Burns had not been admitted to a secure unit after attempting suicide at the City Hospital.

Dr McDonnell said it was practice to admit a patient to a psychiatric unit for assessment first and that it was not felt that she met the criteria for detention under the Mental Health Act.

Expressing his sympathy to the family, Coroner John Leckey said he believed the catalyst for Mrs Burns's death was the realisation that "the future was bleak" and that there was no long term solution to her condition.

"If someone is determined eventually they will find a way of carrying out the act," he said.

Belfast Telegraph


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