The Guardian
Psychiatrist suspended for 12 months after man drowned in epileptic fit
By Josh Halliday
February 21, 2018

Psychiatrist Valerie Murphy

Psychiatrist Valerie Murphy

A senior psychiatrist has been suspended for 12 months following the death of a vulnerable teenager who suffered an epileptic fit and drowned in a bath at an NHS care unit.

Dr Valerie Murphy was the lead clinician responsible for treating Connor Sparrowhawk, 18, who died weeks after arriving at Slade House in Oxford in July 2013.

The psychiatrist, who now works in Cork, Ireland, admitted failing to spot the warnings signs before the teenager’s death while in the care of Southern Health NHS Trust.

On Thursday a medical tribunal suspended Murphy’s registration for 12 months after it concluded that the doctor’s conduct was impaired.

Both Murphy and Southern Health NHS Trust have previously admitted failings in the care of Connor, who had epilepsy, autism and learning difficulties.

The teenager’s death led to the discovery that Southern Health had failed to properly investigate the deaths of more than 1,000 patients with learning disabilities or mental health problems over four years.

Speaking after the sanction was imposed, Connor’s mother, Dr Sara Ryan, told the Guardian: “The decision doesn’t match up in any way to the evidence we have heard. She says in her reflective statement she’s ‘dropped the ball’ – I just don’t think that’s an acceptable statement to make for a situation that’s led to a boy’s death.”

During a tribunal hearing in Manchester last year, Murphy tearfully admitted she “got it wrong” after reducing his level of observation from every 10 minutes to once an hour.

The decision meant that on the day Connor died, 4 July 2013, he was left to bathe unsupervised despite suffering at least two epileptic seizures in the weeks prior.

A nurse said he popped his head around the bathroom door to check on Connor about 10 minutes after the bath had been run. The two did not speak but the teenager seemed fine, he said.

About 20 minutes later, a fellow staff member told the nurse that Connor was submerged and his face was blue. He was pronounced dead in hospital.

Although the suspension bans Murphy from practicing in the UK for 12 months, it does not prevent her from working in Cork where she is registered with the Irish Medical Council.

Ireland’s Health Service Executive previously said it was monitoring the outcome of the tribunal in Manchester.

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