Mental health team criticised over care given to Highgate animal rights activist who killed herself on Hampstead Heath
11:38 18 June 2012
A coroner has criticised a mental health team for shortcomings in its care after a Highgate animal rights activist and poet killed herself on Hampstead Heath.
Rita McKenty, known to her friends as Emerald, had struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) since her 20s and suffered frequent bouts of depression.
St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard how the 61 year-old had threatened to kill herself and had been hospitalised twice in the two months before her death.
Despite an “escalation” in her condition since Christmas last year, she had only been seen face to face by her mental health team once in the three months before she died.
Her body was discovered on Hampstead Heath on March 2, surrounded by an empty vodka bottle, used ibuprofen packets and a suicide note with the words “Please God forgive me” scrawled on it.
Raising “grave concerns” about the care Mrs McKenty received, deputy coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe said: “We are talking about a woman whose mental health had deteriorated quite considerably in the preceding four to six months.
“Her drinking had increased considerably and she had begun to self harm. She was talking considerably more about suicide.”
Dr Radcliffe questioned the lack of face to face contact Mrs McKenty had with her mental heath team, at the hearing on Thursday (June 14).
She said: “Should that not give rise to concern that someone should have contacted her?”
Mrs McKenty, who lived with her long term carer in Holmesdale Road, spent four decades struggling with OCD.
Terrified of germs, she wore rubber gloves most of the time, and would take up to two hours to dress in the morning.
She often thought of suicide and even spoke of visiting the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to take her own life.
In January she had been taken to the Whittington Hospital in Highgate after taking a cocktail of pills and alcohol.
Two days before her death, she was rushed to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel after roaming Tower Bridge threatening to throw herself into the River Thames.
She was seen by a junior psychiatrist who decided not to section her, but believed her mental health team would see the poet at her home that day. No one did.
Criticising the decision to let her leave the hospital, her husband James McKenty said: “I was worried about her. I knew deep down that she was going to carry on drinking and was probably going to try it again.
“The thing we were upset about was why did they let her leave the London hospital that day? She was in no fit state to go home.”
Dr Radcliffe ruled that Mrs McKenty killed herself from a toxic mixture of drugs and alcohol.
She ordered Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust, which oversaw her care, to improve procedures.
She said: “I do want the trust to look at things again and make sure that my concerns about actually seeing the patients and not just doing assessments on the telephone should be reviewed.”
A Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust spokeswoman said: “The trust would like to send our sincere condolences to the family of Mrs McKenty for their sad loss.
“We have carried out a full investigation into this case and have an action plan in place to address all of the recommendations as a matter of priority. We will take into account the inquest and act on any recommendations.”