Police were ‘frustrated’ after responding to a 999 call from a mental health hospital asking for help finding a vulnerable patient, only to be told to complete visitation paperwork. The two West Midlands Police response officers, who showed up in uniform at Woodbourne Priory Hospital in Birmingham, were also asked to sign to say they had read its Covid policy despite the ’emergency’ nature of their visit, an inquest said.
Officers had been called to hospital after a head nurse reported 23-year-old personal trainer Matthew Caseby jumped a fence and fled on September 7, 2020. He was hit by a train the next day.
Birmingham and Solihull Supervising Coroner Louise Hunt heard the 999 call for Mr Caseby, then missing, was passed to Response Officer Pc Andrew Freeman and fellow Pc Wayne Thomas at around 5.28pm It was classified as a Level 1 missing persons call, Mr Freeman said, which was the force’s “highest risk”.
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When officers arrived at the large hospital site, they were unsure which ward Mr Caseby had fled from, so they proceeded to the main reception. “I was a bit held back there at first, much to my frustration,” Mr Freeman said.
“The receptionist – she was unwilling to give us the information I wanted right away due to (of) some sort of Priory policy that we had to, first of all, complete a small amount of paperwork which were then placed in cordons, showing us as visitors Second, when we were at the height of Covid – she wanted us to read a document and then had to sign to say we had already read a document. .. she was telling us which department to go to.
“I expressed my frustrations to the receptionist to let her know that this is an immediate response, we need to get this information as soon as possible. I considered it urgent.
“However, those few minutes could have made the difference in being in the right place at the right time later when we were looking for routes. I was just very frustrated at the time.
“We’ve been called by someone at the Priory to say it’s (a) very immediate concern, we need to get out there and start trying to find Matthew straight away. However, on the other side of the coin when we’re arrived there we were held up for three to five minutes, filling out paperwork so we could carry a visitor’s pass – which I found very inappropriate.”
Having finally gained access to the right department, staff were unable to provide the police with basic patient information. “I found myself quite frustrated,” Mr. Freeman said.
“Any very basic question we had at this point was pretty much answered ‘we don’t have that information’.”
Asked about the information they provided about Mr Caseby’s risk of injury, he said: ‘We were told he had denied any self-harm or suicidal tendencies. While there, staff described how the patient presented as showing signs of paranoia.
“He thought the staff might have tampered with his food,” Mr Freeman added. When police searched his room in the ward, they found notes containing “pieces of fabric” with the words “under pressure” and “overwhelmed”.
However, the officer said that “mixed” among these writings were notes on “fitness ideas” and “a business plan”. Mr Freeman also said he was never told by Priory staff how Mr Caseby had previously been found by police on a railway line in Oxfordshire and held for his own security.
The officer only discovered this fact after reading a patient risk assessment form from Warneford Hospital, Oxford, in his police cruiser. Mr Freeman said: ‘Immediately you think ‘what is someone doing on the railway lines’, adding that ‘this is massively ringing alarm bells.
“Most of the time when people are on the train tracks, it’s unfortunately because they’re thinking about doing something,” he added. The officer ‘updated the log’ to ‘immediately’ alert fellow British Transport Police to be on alert for Mr Caseby.
Officers searched, made contact with Mr Caseby’s family and traced likely places the former University of Birmingham student might have visited but were unable to find him at the end of their shift early morning. The graduate’s father, Richard, 61, had previously told the inquest that health authorities had a fundamental legal duty to protect his son.
The investigation is continuing.
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