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JUNE 20, 2020
A leading heart doctor hanged himself after fighting a secret 40-year battle against drinking and depression, an inquest has heard.
Consultant cardiologist Adam Fitzpatrick, 63, was a revered medic who treated patients ‘as if they were his family’ – but he also drank heavily to cope with his own mental health issues caused by feelings of ‘abandonment’ during his childhood.
On January 19, the father-of-three, who worked at Manchester Royal Infirmary, was found hanged from a tree next to a garden centre near his family home in Wilmslow, Cheshire.
His death came just 24 hours after he had rejected an offer of help at a rehab clinic.
Dr Fitzpatrick’s body was found by a passing dog walker near Wimslow Garden Centre.
Tests showed he was slightly above the blood alcohol limit for driving and no suicide note was found.
Coroner Heath Westerman recorded a conclusion of suicide.
He first sought professional help when he was in his early 20s and, despite being admitted to the Priory Hospital and Alcoholics Anonymous for counselling, Dr Fitzpatrick continued to reflect on issues of ‘unacceptability’ and complained of ‘feeling used by others’ and self harmed.
Dr Fitzpatrick was the medical director of the Arrhythmia Alliance Group which researches heart conditions.
He had worked at Westminster Hospital in London and also San Francisco and helped write 16 scientific publications about cardiology.
He took up a consultant post at Manchester Royal Infirmary Heart Centre and developed its cardiac electrophysiology service and was said to be ‘highly regarded’ by his colleagues and ‘adored’ by patients.
Dr Fitzpatrick’s widow Claire, whom he had separated from before his death, said: ‘He suffered with mental health problems since his early 20s when he first sought psychiatric support.
‘He was admitted to hospital for it about 21 years ago, then about 10 years ago and then again for five weeks in March 2019 following an episode of self-harm with knives upon his chest.
‘He drank heavily and self-medicated during bouts of depression and 2019 seemed to be the heaviest drinking period of all. He sought AA help and admitted himself to a rehab centre for seven weeks and discharged himself two weeks before he died.
‘He suffered low mood and suicidal thoughts on and off for many years. He took an overdose and was treated in summer 2018 and visited the Humber Bridge in February 2019 twice before self-harming with knives twice in that year. Leading up to his death he was in rehab and his mood was up and down and he lengthened his stay three by three weeks.
‘It seemed he was then ready to tackle the world however in January he discharged himself and booked into a Premier Inn rather than going home. I last texted Adam on Thursday 16 January.’
Lorraine Bryan a registered psychiatric nurse at Cheshire and Wirral NHS trust who treated Dr Fitzpatrick in August 2019 said: ‘He said he felt mentally well at the time of his assessment and attributed some of his behaviour to therapy he had been receiving privately.
‘He was hoping for a change in his anti-depressants and in addition referrals were made to the complex therapy team about unresolved childhood issues.
‘Two weeks before he had spent the week with friends in North Wales where he had been able to stay sober but spent the week after that drinking.
‘He reported daily thoughts of suicide for the past week and admitted he had spent most of the previous day in a shower cubicle with a knife held to his chest. He told me his fear of pain and uncertainty prevented him from acting further and said he had gone for a meal and three pints at the local pub the previous night before returning home.
‘In the morning of the assessment he had spoken to his GP about admission to the Priory. He was well presented at the assessment in casual clothes and was hygienic but was sweating profusely and showing evidence of alcohol withdrawal.
‘He had good eye contact, spontaneity in his speech was normal but described himself as feeling more depressed in the absence of alcohol.
‘He reported doing nothing but drinking and staying in bed over the previous weeks. He said that when he stopped drinking he felt the urge to kill himself. Three weeks before he had taken an overdose of tablets. There was no evidence of paranoid or obsessional thinking at the time of the assessment and no evidence he was responding to unseen external stimuli.
‘He showed limited insight about his alcohol misuse and was unrealistic in his expectations of what services would be available. But he demonstrated forward thinking about wanting to address his alcohol misuse and requesting help via admission to the Priory.’
A report by Amanda Cooper from the Bayberry clinic and recovery centre in Solihull said: ‘Family issues and professional practice issues were prevalent alongside abandonment issues from childhood. He reflected on feelings of injustice and unfairness in his life saying he felt used by others.
‘On 6 January 2020 he declined an offer of referral to the mental health crisis team and he continued to present as having full capacity. Discharge planning included a plan to stay with a friend which lifted his mood but the offer to stay with a friend was modified to a shorter period due to external issues which provided some distress.
‘On 13 January the offer of a two week stay appeared to still be available but on Saturday 18 January he texted Bayberry saying ‘I’m OK’- which was relayed to Cheshire Police- and a doctor.’
No family were at the hearing.
At the time of the tragedy close colleague Prof Richard Sutton said: ‘Adam’s colleagues relied greatly on his expertise, always freely given. Most were unaware of his intermittent illness, which he bore bravely.
‘His industry was enormous and he achieved almost impossible goals in short order. Adam retired from the NHS a little early which was related in part to his deteriorating health and also to the frustrations he found trying to be the caring doctor he believed to be necessary in the hostile environment of today’s NHS.
‘He leaves a legacy of a rare combination of scientific excellence and warm patient care.’