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 bosses told all surgeries to abandon a system of ‘total triage’ in May – but some practices were later found to be ignoring the orders.
It comes as family doctors will be told to tear up Covid rules to allow them to see more patients in person in the coming days following the Mail’s Let’s See GPs Face to Face campaign.
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)
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.
It will focus on cutting bureaucracy, giving doctors more time to see patients face to face.
GP surgeries will be given new Covid guidance, including scrapping the two-metre social distancing rule which ended months ago elsewhere.
Onerous ‘enhanced cleaning’ regimes will also be relaxed in the shake-up.
A Whitehall source said the ‘small minority’ of GPs resisting a return to face-to-face appointments would be ‘held to account’.
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.
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