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Vulnerable man dies from hypothermia after walking out of care home

Written by on 17/10/2020

A vulnerable man who walked out of his care home three times disappeared again and was later found dead before a professional review of his living arrangements took place.

Former mechanic Derek Atkinson, 72, had long-term problems with paranoid schizophrenia and was moved to The Grange care home at Cundy Cross in Barnsley, after a hospital stay of several months.

But within around three months, he began to disappear and had to be reported to South Yorkshire Police as a missing person.

His sons Robert and Peter became concerned because The Grange has an ‘open door’ policy and the home manager reported to Mr Atkinson’s Barnsley Council care co-ordinator.

She was planning a meeting of health professionals to discuss his case, where the Grange manager said she would have “possibly asked them to look at moving him to a different placement”.

However in November last year – before that meeting took place – he left the home, apparently to visit shops in nearby Lundwood, and never returned.

Police were alerted and following an overnight search he was found dead by mountain rescue volunteers near Mallory Way in Cudworth the following morning, with his death blamed on hypothermia.

An inquest into his death yesterday was told by a social worker that Mr Atkinson was deemed to have the mental capacity to make choices about his welfare and chose to live at The Grange from two options.

A psychiatrist said he believed Mr Atkinson’s capacity was variable, based on the severity of his illness, but under mental health laws it is accepted individuals have the ability to make choices unless evidence to the contrary exists.

Assistant Coroner Abigail Combes said Mr Atkinson’s care may have been better had all agencies worked more closely together to assess his condition.

She concluded that death was due to misadventure and said: “There is no suggestion Derek left with the intention of ending his life. Whatever was in Derek’s head when he left, death certainly wasn’t.”

However, she said there had been a “missed opportunity to discuss and understand the risk to Derek” in terms of his care, but added that she could not say that was a cause or contributing factor in his death.

A meeting “may have resulted in the same outcome” she said.

“While I can identify things which may have been far from perfect, there are too many other factors at play, for example the same conclusion may have been reached.

“There are so many ‘what ifs’ that I am not able to speculuate. I don’t feel there is enough for me to say it would have made a difference in Derek’s case.”