Answers sought in psychiatric patient deaths

Three deaths inside of one month’s time have party leaders demanding an explanation from the health minister

Three patients admitted to the psychiatric wards at two different hospitals in the Greater Copenhagen area died while under the care of hospital personnel and parliament wants to know why.


Two patients died in January while confined to a secured ward at the psychiatric centre of Copenhagen's Bispebjerg hospital. The third patient died in February while being treated at a ward at the Mental Health Centre North Zealand in Hillerød.


The health minister, Astrid Krag (Socialistisk Folkeparti) has been called to two different meetings with members of parliament to explain what she is doing to prevent more patients from dying unexpectedly.


The first meeting will be closed to the public and was called by Dansk Folkeparti health spokesperson Liselott Blixt, who is also head of parliament's patient's rights oversight group.


"Patient's privacy rights must be protected," Blixt told Politiken newspaper. "Therefore, I am asking the health minister for a closed meeting so she can explain in confidence what happened on those wards that caused three people to die. It is important that we get to the bottom of this."


The state medical examiner is investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths and hospitals in the Copenhagen area have instituted a wide range of initiatives designed to prevent more patients in secured wards from dying.


Published reports revealed that all three of the deceased patients received a combination of anti-psychotic and sedative drugs. The national board of health does not recommend such a drug protocol due to the risk of serious side effects.


All three patients had taken methadone, a powerful sedative and morphine-like drug.


A combination of other medications being taken on top of the methadone is thought to be the cause of the deaths. An autopsy report revealed that one of the patients had a total of five kinds of psychotropic drugs in his blood when he died.


Regional officials claimed that both patients who died at Bispebjerg had taken extra medication themselves that was beyond what the staff had given them, and said that stricter rules for the handling of medication were being put in place.


MP Martin Geerten (Venstre) said that there is so much uncertainty about patients' welfare in psychiatric wards that Krag must intervene.


"Three people have unfortunately lost their lives within a month, and one wonders what will happen in the next ten," Geerten, a member of parliament’s health committee told Politiken. 


Geerten called on the national board of health to conduct a detailed study into the deaths and said that Krag should clarify what efforts, including legal avenues, were being pursued to prevent and control medication errors. 

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