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The Shields Gazette
Feb 14, 2013
A MUM, told she had terminal cancer, took her own life to spare her family from watching her suffer. Ann Hodgson walked out of South Tyneside District Hospital just hours after the devastating news, and was found on Roker Beach the morning after, with a note for her loved ones.
At an inquest into her death, hospital bosses admitted they had changed their policy on missing patients after failing to notice the 70-year-old was missing for almost two and a half hours.
Mrs Hodgson, from Windsor Gardens, South Shields, was admitted to the respiratory ward at the South Shields hospital on August 14 after complaining of chest pains.
The next day, the former dog trainer was told she had single-cell carcinoma in her lungs, which couldn’t be cured.
After getting the news, she saw her husband and daughter, and came to the decision that she didn’t want to receive any treatment for the cancer.
At 8.10pm, she told staff on the ward she was going out for a cigarette.
But at 10.30pm, after realising she hadn’t returned, they raised the alarm and called 999.
Mrs Hodgson’s body was found at the Sunderland beach in the early hours of August 16 last year.
At an inquest into the cause of her death, at Sunderland Civic Centre, coroner Karin Welsh heard a post-mortem examination found she had a mixture of anti-depressants and pain relief in her blood stream, which wasn’t prescribed by the hospital.
Nurse Helen Hunter said Mrs Hodgson seemed to take the cancer diagnosis well. She said: “I think she was expecting it and it just confirmed her fears. She didn’t really say or do anything when I told her.
“She just accepted it and said she would tell her family”. Ward manager Josephine Turnbull told the inquest she had no reason to think Mrs Hodgson would kill herself. She said: “She seemed fine in herself and was often going in and out of the ward for a cigarette or for coffee.
“The night before she went out at the same time and came back at 11pm, so we had no reason to think she would do anything different on that night. ”Despite getting the news of her cancer earlier, she didn’t seem any different.”
The inquest heard that CCTV showed Mrs Hodgson leaving hospital grounds at 9pm, and when she was found the next morning she had a bus ticket from South Shields to Sunderland a note addressed to her daughter, Elizabeth Atkinson, that made it clear she wanted to take her own life so her family wouldn’t have to see her condition and health deteriorate.
The coroner said she was confident that Mrs Hodgson took her own life to ease the pain on her family.
She said: “She was a lady who unfortunately received a diagnosis the day before her death about her health and she knew she was suffering from a terminal illness.
“She seems like a very clear-minded lady who knew her own mind, and with the best of intentions, she did what she did to protect her family.
“She killed herself with the best of motives.”
* Verdict: Suicide
SPEAKING after the case, Mrs Hodgson’s daughter, Elizabeth Atkinson, said: “The verdict wasn’t a surprise, but what I was shocked about is that it was so easy for her to walk out of the hospital so soon after receiving news that she had terminal cancer.
“I was also surprised that it took more than two hours for anyone to check where she was.
“I’m pleased that something has now been done about it, but I don’t think it should have taken someone’s death to bring about regular checks.
“My mum clearly knew what she was doing, but what if there was a more confused patient who went out and hurt themselves?”
Mrs Atkinson added: “I know that in her mind she did what she did to protect her family from seeing her illness get worse.
“She was a proud lady who knew what she wanted throughout her life.”
BOSSES at South Tyneside District Hospital have changed their policies on missing patients since Ann Hodgson’s death.
Speaking at the inquest into Mrs Hodgson’s death, Debra Stephen, head of nursing at South Tyneside Foundation Trust, said the changes include regular checks on patients and agreed times on them coming back from cigarette breaks.
The changes to the Missing Patients Policy have been in place since December 1 and will be reviewed again next month to see if any further amendments are needed.
Mrs Stephen said: “The policy has been reviewed and changes are in place. The escalation policies are still in place though now when patients are going for a cigarette or a coffee or leaving the ward for any reason, a time will be agreed for them to come back.
“If they are not back by that time, the missing patients procedure will be put in place immediately.
“There is also a new policy on doing rounds – now, there will be one about every hour and a half, certainly no more than two hours.
“That is to make sure the patients are comfortable or check if they are in pain.”