Mum-of-two suffers brain injury and dies after drinking too much water

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A mum-of-two has died after suffering a brain injury caused by drinking too much water.

Michelle Whitehead, 45, was admitted to Millbrook Mental Health Unit in Nottinghamshire in 2021, and died two days later. After her death on May 7, an inquest was launched, and it revealed how Whitehead was drinking water execssively.

This condition is known as psychogenic polydipsia and is common in patients with psychiatric disorders, but NHS staff failed to diagnose Whitehead with it at the time.

Nobody realised how serious the issue was, and she was allowed to have unsupervised access to water in her room, only making the problem worse.

An inquest was told that staff had to use tranquilizers on the mum-of-two to calm her down and force her to go to sleep.

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But she did not go to sleep. Instead, she slipped into a coma which hospital staff didn’t notice until four hours later. It then took them 15 minutes to get her into the recovery position.

Michael Whitehead, Michelle’s husband of 22 years, is adamant the health care staff should have noticed something was “very wrong” sooner. He told the BBC: “Had they acted earlier Michelle would have been taken to ICU and put on a drip. That would have saved her life.”

Michelle was admitted to King’s Mill Hospital where she passed away. She died after the excess amounts of water she consumed caused severely low sodium levels, leading to swelling in the brain, fatally injuring it.

Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust admitted eight failings in the care Whitehead received while at Millbrook for the second time, the first being in 2018 after an acute mental breakdown.

The failings included staff not adhering to trust policy when Whitehead was tranquilised, to being “distracted” by mobile phones. The inquest also found a 10-minute delay in letting paramedics enter the building.

Following the investigation, Coroner Laurinda Bower sent a report to the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust CEO saying more people could die “unless action is taken”.

Ifti Majid, chief executive of the trust, offered his condolences and apologies to Michelle’s family.

He told the BBC: “We are considering the findings of the jury and the coroner. We acknowledge that there were aspects of care which were not of the quality they should have been and will address the concerns raised so that the experience for patients now and in future is improved.”

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