A mother-of-three hanged herself just two hours after her GP told her he would ‘give her a ring tomorrow’ during a phone appointment to discuss her urgent mental health, an inquest has heard.
Clare Childes, 45, of Caernarfon, North Wales, reported suicidal thoughts during a 13-minute call with Dr Gwilym Evans on March 31 this year, telling him that she had downed a bottle of alcohol and was considering hanging herself later that evening.
But she was not immediately referred to a mental health crisis team over concerns she would not be seen because she had been drinking.
The doctor initially told her that he would call her back the next day.
Mrs Childes was found dead in her home by her son’s girlfriend just two hours after the telephone call.
The coroner at the inquest, in Caernarfon, is now considering sending health chiefs an official ‘Preventing Future Deaths’ report after hearing of the phone appointment tragedy.
The death of Mrs Childes came just weeks before general practices were told to return to face-to-face appointments by the NHS.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid is set to unveil a package of measures in the coming days to tear up Covid rules stopping family doctors seeing patients face-to-face.
Latest figures suggest that fewer than 60 per cent of GP appointments in England are help in person, compared to 80 per cent before the pandemic.
Health bosses told surgeries to ensure all patients could see their doctors in May — but some practices were later found to have ignored the order.
Campaigners point out that in-person appointments are vital to pick up on symptoms and conditions that might otherwise be missed. There are also fears that patients may be ignoring potentially dangerous issues because of the access issues.
At the inquest, Dr Evans said Mrs Childes had told him she was having suicidal thoughts which had been made worse by lockdown.
Clare Childes, 45, was found dead in her home by her son’s girlfriend in Caernarfon, North Wales, just two hours after a telephone call with a GP in which she reported suicidal thoughts (Pictured: Clare, right, with daughter Kimberley, left)
The number of GP appointments taking place face-to-face dropped dramatically at the beginning of the pandemic, as virtual appointments were encouraged in an attempt to keep social mixing low and hospitals virus-free. In-person appointments began to increase last summer, before dropping again during the second wave. Despite being on the rise, the figures are still much lower than pre-pandemic levels
The average number of sessions GPs works in a day have gone down over the last decade while their wage growth has gone up. In 2012 the average GP worked 7.3 sessions a week but this has now fallen to 6.6 a week, the equivalent of just over three days of work a week. In the same period the average GP income went up by more than £6,000. A GP’s daily work is divided into sessions. According to the NHS, a full-time GP works 8 sessions a week, formed of two sessions a day, generally starting at 8am and finishing at 6.30pm, though these hours can vary
Just 0.6 per cent of appointments in August were home visits, down from one per cent before the Covid crisis. Doctors have long called for them to be scrapped because they are too time-consuming
But he delayed contacting the crisis team because she said she had ‘knocked down a bottle of Disaronno to stop the pain’.
Giving evidence, Dr Evans said: ‘I had never spoken to Clare before that day but I could hear tension in her voice.
‘She told me she was stressed, felt very unwell and was thinking about killing herself.’
The inquest heard Mrs Childes told the doctor her concerns about her finances, her alcohol intake and her relationship breakdown.
Dr Evans said: ‘She also said that lockdown had made her feel more unwell.
‘I was concerned for her and told her I would speak to the mental health team and said I’d give her a ring tomorrow.
‘She told me she might hang herself later on that evening but I was concerned that the mental health team would decline to see her because she had been drinking so I said I would ring her back as soon as I could.’
The inquest heard Dr Evans called back later that same day at 5:45pm on March 31 but it went straight to answer phone.
Dr Evans said he went on a mental health training course following the tragic death of Mrs Childes.
He added: ‘I’d make the referral straight away now.
‘At the time I was concerned about the presentation of Clare as she told me she had drank a lot and I was concerned they would not be willing to accept a referral if she was under the influence of alcohol.’
He said he had wanted to ‘wait until the effects of the alcohol had worn off.’
The inquest heard Mrs Childes had only been left alone for 40 minutes before her body was found by her son’s girlfriend.
Daughter Kimberley Childes said her mum had been saying she ‘couldn’t cope’ in the lead up to her death.
Kimberely said: ‘She had a history of poor mental health which worsened during lockdown.
The death of Mrs Childes (pictured) on March 31 came just weeks before general practices were told to return to face-to-face appointments by the NHS
‘Mam begged the doctor to do something but she was told to wait until the next day.
‘I never imagined she would do something like this.
‘She loved going out and socialising and will be sadly missed by family and friends.’
Acting senior coroner Katie Sutherland recorded a conclusion of death by hanging.
She said: ‘Clare had a history of mental health problems and during the telephone consultation which began at 13.56, she said she felt suicidal.
‘She was told a referral would be made to the mental health team but it was not made.’
A package from Health Secretary Sajid Javid to address the crisis in GP access will be announced in the coming days.
Rules set to be on the chopping block include the two-metre social distancing rule in surgeries. This was dropped by hospitals last month.
The inquest heard Mrs Childes told the doctor her concerns about her finances, her alcohol intake and her relationship breakdown (Pictured: Hafan Iechyd surgery where Dr Gwilym Evans works)
GPs could also have their workload eased, with hospitals writing more prescriptions and sickness notes for workers. And onerous cleaning requirements could be scaled back.
A Whitehall source said last night that the new package would see ministers work with the profession to reverse the decline seen over the past two years.
The source said: ‘GPs are doing a great job under difficult circumstances — we are full of praise for the vast majority who are doing their best for patients.
‘We have been working closely with the NHS on a plan to support GPs and deliver better outcomes for patients.
‘We all want the same outcome and by working together we can achieve it but we will hold the small minority letting the side down to account.’
Doctors’ representatives have bridled at the suggestion they are not willing to see patients.
The decision is a major victory for the Mail’s campaign, Let’s See GPs Face to Face, which has detailed the devastating decline in the number of patients able to see a doctor.
- For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see samaritans.org for details.
Source: Daily Mail UK