Hong Kong hospital reviews supervision measures for patient who fell to his death after leaving recovery centre
- Kwai Chung Hospital creates review panel to look into disappearance of 20-year-old patient from site’s recovery centre, shortly before his fatal fall on October 13
- Patient’s mother accuses recovery centre of negligence and tells local media she warned staff her son had history of psychosis and suicide attempts
A Hong Kong hospital has established a review panel to look into the supervision arrangements for a 20-year-old man who left the site’s recovery centre last month and fell to his death soon after.
Kwai Chung Hospital announced the review on Monday as local media reported the patient’s mother had expressed dissatisfaction over the 45-minute window from when staff flagged him as missing on the afternoon of October 13 to police’s discovery of his body close to a building in the same district.
Discussing the tragedy, a hospital spokesman said: “The hospital has reported the incident to headquarters and set up a root cause analysis panel to examine the incident in detail, including the arrangements for the patient’s treatment at the day recovery centre.”
The hospital said the patient had completed the centre’s registration process at around 10.15am on the day of the incident, describing the man’s initial response as passive before he later expressed a wish to leave.
The centre primarily works with adult patients who have received follow-up appointments from the West Kowloon Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic.
Staff at the time reminded the man not to leave without permission and notified his family about his request, it added.
He was still at the centre when staff served lunch, but was reported missing at 1.50pm when they tried to arrange a time for a talk with him. They were later notified of his death at 2.37pm.
The hospital on Monday said it had recommended the patient be admitted at its main facility in mid-August for treatment, but the man and his family had turned down the suggestion.
He was instead referred to the recovery centre, which has a policy of fostering a sense of autonomy among patients through training, as well as encouraging them to fill out their own entry and exit records.
During the patient’s introduction to the centre, staff had also encouraged him to take part in the various activities offered at the site, it added.
According to local media, the man’s mother accused the hospital of negligence and said she had repeatedly asked the centre’s staff to closely monitor her son as he had been diagnosed with psychosis and had attempted suicide before.
The mother, who gave her surname as Lam, described her son as emotionally unstable the night before he went to the centre. She added that she accompanied him there on October 13 and had discussed his mental health with staff.
Lam also told the centre not to discharge her son when he expressed a desire to leave at around 11am that day. Police notified the mother of her son’s death about two hours later.
A police investigation suggested the man had died after falling from the rooftop of Shek Cheung House in Shek Lei (II) Estate in Kwai Chung.
No suicide note was recovered at the scene, with the cause of death determined by autopsy, the force said at the time.
Welfare sector legislator Tik Chi-yuen on Monday said the centre had committed a “low-level mistake” and should fit high-risk patients with tracking bracelets to ensure their safety.
He also argued that the use of the bracelets did not contradict the centre’s policy of ensuring patients’ autonomy.
Some government advisers on the same day also raised concerns over the effectiveness of a recently proposed three-tier mechanism to support youngsters deemed at high risk of committing suicide.
According to a university analysis of media reports, 22 teenagers attempted suicide or killed themselves between August and October. The figure is double the number recorded for the same period last year.
The government last week said it was considering setting up the mechanism in response to the spate of incidents, with teachers and in-school social workers to help identify cases for follow-up.
Under the policy, cases linked to under-resourced schools will be referred to the Social Welfare Department and local NGOs, while public hospitals will take on the most serious patients.
However, Professor Eric Chen Yu-hai, a member of the Advisory Committee on Mental Health, expressed doubts and noted a similar plan was proposed in 2016 that involved the educational, welfare and medical sectors.
“It reflects that we are unable to come up with any solution … The mechanism only works when there is sufficient manpower at every tier,” he told a radio programme. “If manpower at the lowest level is not sufficient, it will create congestion and cases can never reach the higher tiers.”
“The three-tier system is very dangerous as it gives us a false sense of security, because we think the mechanism can smooth things over. But it is self-deceptive when we don’t have enough manpower.”
Chen argued that educators already had many responsibilities and could struggle to identify at-risk students and also noted the turnover rates among social workers and educational psychologists were quite high.
The Hong Kong Council of Social Service in March published a survey showing that NGOs had a staff turnover rate of more than 23 per cent last year, with many organisations saying they were struggling to recruit or retain social workers.
Chen on Monday instead encouraged authorities to offer more in-depth mental health education for students to remove any sense of stigma, as well as to ensure pupils could support their peers.
If you have suicidal thoughts, or you know someone who is, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services.