Sutton-in-Ashfield, England – A recently concluded inquest into the death of Michelle Whitehead, a mother-of-two who was admitted to a mental health unit in May 2021, found that she died after drinking too much water while the staff were distracted by their phones. According to BBC News, the 45-year-old woman slipped into a coma and suffered brain swelling due to dangerously low sodium levels.
The investigation revealed that despite the presence of psychogenic polydipsia, a well-known psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive water intake, the staff failed to diagnose Whitehead. As a result, she was allowed unmonitored access to water during her time at the Millbrook Mental Health Unit in Sutton-in-Ashfield.
The Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which operates the mental health unit, admitted to several failures on the part of its staff. These included inadequate monitoring, distractions caused by personal mobile phone use (which was prohibited on the ward), discontinuing monitoring after Whitehead was tranquilized, a delay in the arrival of the duty doctor, and a 10-minute wait for paramedics to enter the building.
Whitehead was eventually transported to a hospital but passed away two days later. The Chief Executive of the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Ifti Majid, expressed condolences to the family, acknowledging the shortcomings in Whitehead’s care and vowing to address the concerns raised to improve patient experiences.
When interviewed, Whitehead’s husband, Michael Whitehead, criticized the staff for not realizing that something was seriously wrong when his wife apparently fell asleep. He believes that timely action, such as being taken to the intensive care unit and receiving a drip, would have saved her life. He described Michelle as a warm and caring person who had quit her job to take care of their son with Down syndrome.
The tragic death of Michelle Whitehead raises questions about the importance of diligent monitoring and timely intervention in mental health units. It serves as a reminder that even well-known psychiatric disorders should not be overlooked, as they can have life-threatening consequences. The Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has pledged to address the issues highlighted in the investigation to improve patient care in the future.