Head of Mental Health at Reina Sofía Hospital Faces Prison for Denying Assistance to Schizophrenic Patient Who Committed Suicide
The Córdoba Prosecutor’s Office has demanded a four-year prison sentence for the head of mental health at the Reina Sofía Hospital, a psychiatrist known by the initials CP. The prosecutor accuses CP of continuously denying assistance to a schizophrenic patient who later took their own life, resulting in a charge of reckless homicide. This unprecedented case has brought the doctor to trial for alleged malpractice in failing to establish proper follow-up care for the patient as outlined in the hospital’s protocol.
According to sources in the case, the patient did not receive adequate treatment or assistance and, before taking their own life, committed a homicide. Due to their chronic schizoaffective disorder, they were excused from criminal liability for the crime. The prosecutor’s request, dated last spring, states, “Although the patient persisted in their desire to take their own life, the accused, being aware of the events, persisted in providing treatment, refusing to provide adequate assistance to a psychiatric patient.”
This case marks a first in the field of psychiatry, as there have been no previous instances of psychiatrists facing prison sentences for malpractice in psychiatric care. The ongoing mental health crisis precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a significant rise in suicides, with 4,097 deaths recorded in 2022. However, this is the first time a doctor has been accused of malpractice leading to a patient’s death.
The accused psychiatrist, who serves as the head of the mental health clinical management unit at the Córdoba hospital, now faces two and a half years in prison for a continued crime of denial of health care and an additional year and a half for reckless homicide. They could also face disqualification for a period of seven years. The head of the court overseeing the case, María Dolores Magdalena Rivas, has recently ordered the opening of an oral trial, signaling that the doctor will soon face legal proceedings.
According to the prosecutor’s letter, the patient’s family repeatedly requested hospital assistance after the patient was admitted to the Reina Sofía emergency room. The patient exhibited symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, nervousness, aggression, hallucinations, and thoughts of suicide. However, after being referred to the mental health unit, the patient did not receive proper follow-up care, worsening their condition.
The patient was diagnosed with a mixed personality disorder and substance abuse. The accused psychiatrist, among others, examined the patient and discharged them without implementing a follow-up and control protocol. This neglect caused the patient’s condition to deteriorate further.
Concerned for their safety due to the patient’s aggressive behavior and suicide attempts, a family member reported the situation to the head of the service. The prosecutor’s office criticizes the psychiatrist for disregarding basic standards of care and failing to comply with the action protocols specified by the hospital.
Following the family’s warnings, the patient’s relative sought legal intervention to address the dire situation at home. The judge authorized the patient’s involuntary commitment and issued a letter to the accused psychiatrist to ensure the patient’s immediate hospitalization. Despite this, the psychiatrist did not comply with the court’s order, leading to tragic consequences.
Both the accused psychiatrist and a spokesperson for Reina Sofía Hospital declined to comment on the case. It remains unclear at what stage in a judicial process medical managers at the hospital must step down from their positions.
In response to this case and the mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic, the Andalusian Government established 40 intensive community treatment teams in January 2021. These teams were created to assist individuals with long-term serious mental disorders who were struggling to comply with their treatments or experiencing first psychotic episodes. This case predates the pandemic.
As the trial approaches, it is evident that there were missed opportunities and a lack of proper care in this tragic case. The prosecutor has emphasized the importance of adhering to the hospital’s protocols and ensuring appropriate care is provided to patients who may be unaware of their mental state.