‘Uncle’s fall was cry for help’ say family

John Barker on his 80th birthday.
John Barker on his 80th birthday.
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BICESTER relatives of a man who hanged himself after being discharged from hospital against his will told a coroner he made “a cry for help” before his death.

On Friday, Bicester resident Helen Barker told the Milton Keynes coroner her husband Gerrard’s 82-year-old uncle, Arthur John Barker, had fallen at his home in Calverton as “...a cry for help, to get into hospital, somewhere warm and with people”.

In March, Mr Barker, known as John, was found hanging from his bedroom door with a home-made ligature around his neck.

Hours previously he had been discharged from Milton Keynes Hospital, where his departing words to a doctor were: “If you send me home I will hang myself.”

Coroner Tom Osborne 
described Mr Barker’s 
inquest as the saddest case he had heard for years.

He heard how the retired civil servant, who spent his time growing vegetables, riding his bicycle and chopping wood to heat his cottage, became worried at the beginning of March when his younger brother fell ill and would be unable to make regular visits to 
deliver firewood.

Mr Barker told neighbours he would like to live in sheltered housing. His family arranged a visit from a mental health team member, who reported no immediate cause for concern.

On March 11, Mr Barker called a neighbour saying he had fallen and could not get up.

Neighbour Maggie Tolliday said: “John was indeed on the floor but he had his head on a cushion, a blanket over him, his mobile phone in his hand and no apparent injuries.

“He was taken to A&E, where his low mood was 
recorded.”

Twenty-four hours later medics ordered his discharge, despite his warning.

His neighbour added: “It was evening by the time he got home to a chilly, 
unmodernised cottage where the facilities were 
basic to say the least.

“We don’t think he even bothered to put the lights on that night – we think he went straight to his bedroom and hanged himself.”

Mrs Barker told the coroner the family had been contacted by a nurse from the discharge lounge at 5pm.

She said her husband said it would not be a good idea for his uncle to be sent home to a cold, dark house, and the nurse said they would ‘see what they can do’. Mrs Barker said the family felt John would be safe in A&E.

Mr Osborne criticised the hospital for the failings of its suicide risk recognition and discharge procedures.

“Although Mr Barker told the doctor he would hang himself if he were discharged, this was never passed to the discharge team...the ‘see what we can do’ conversation with his family seems to have gone nowhere,” he said.

Mr Osborne added: “Simple common sense and compassion demanded that someone should have done something.”

A Milton Keynes Hospital spokesman offered condolences to the Barker family, adding: “Discharge procedures have been changed to ensure we do everything possible to prevent such an incident happening again.”