The family of a woman who took her own life after being allowed to leave the psychiatric unit at Letterkenny General Hospital has issued high court proceedings against the HSE for damages for wrongful death.
The inquest into the death of 54-year-old Pauline Devlin from Burnfoot in Donegal this afternoon returned a verdict of death by suicide as a result of drowning.
The inquest heard evidence that Mrs Devlin, a mother of twins, had expressed suicidal thoughts.
Mrs Devlin’s husband Patrick said that Pauline had discussed suicide with him and had talked about drowning herself.
He said his wife had been depressed for a number of months prior to her death and had been a patient in Letterkenny General Hospital twice - first for two weeks and then for a longer period.
She was still a patient there on 13 December 2012 when he said he received a phone call from the unit asking if his wife was at home.
The staff member told him that she had left the unit to meet friends but had not returned at the time she was supposed to.
Gardaí were alerted and a search was begun for Mrs Devlin, whose body was found later that evening on rocks by the sea at Ards.
At the inquest into her death in Sligo, Dr Clifford Haley, Clinical Director at the psychiatric unit, said that he had assessed Mrs Devlin on 7 December and that a suicidal risk was present.
He said he directed that she could have short periods of leave from the hospital but must be accompanied by family members.
Following a review on 10 December by a junior doctor, it was noted that Mrs Devlin had improved and it was agreed that she would be allowed leave the hospital for two or three hours during the day if she wished.
Dr Haley said it was his understanding that the doctor who made this decision would have seen his notes from 7 December.
When Dr Haley was asked if he could have detained Mrs Devlin under the Mental Health act, he said that he could not have.
He said Mrs Devlin was a voluntary patient, she was seeking help and was co-operating with her care plan and she did not meet the criteria under the legislation for involuntary detention.
Fr Kevin Shorten, a member of the Capuchin Order at Ards Friary gave evidence of meeting Mrs Devlin on two occasions.
The first was 10 days prior to her death when two men told him they had seen a woman behaving oddly at the pier and he went down to speak to her.
He gave her a lift back to Letterkenny and on the way she told him that she had felt like jumping into the sea and that everybody would be better off without her.
Fr Shorten took her back to the psychiatric unit in the hospital.
The second time he met her was on the day she died.
He said that she had called to him in the friary and asked him to mind her handbag while she went for a walk.
He said she seemed to be in better form and gave him a beautiful smile as she went out the door.
However he became concerned when she did not return and went looking for her.
Her body was later found by members of the Donegal Mountain Rescue team.