Inquest hears how Norwich doctor may have fallen asleep while driving home

Dr Ronak Patel

Dr Ronak Patel - Credit: Archant

A highly regarded and popular doctor who died in a head-on collision probably fell asleep as he drove home from the last of three long night shifts at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, an inquest has heard.

Dr Ronak Patel, 33, had been talking to his wife using a hands-free mobile phone shortly before the crash and the couple had been singing to help him stay awake.

His VW Golf collided head-on with a lorry on the A1088 Ixworth Road at Honington shortly before 9am on August 3 last year and his car ended up partly in a ditch.

At the inquest, Accident Investigator PC Mark Webb said: 'It is my opinion that the most plausible explanation for the collision was that Dr Patel fell asleep which prevented him from having appropriate control of his car.'

The results of a police accident investigation ruled out mechanical defects and road conditions as possible causes of the crash.

Dr Patel, a trainee anaesthetist, had finished the last of three long night shifts at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital University and had been anxious to get back to his home in Coltsfoot Crescent, Ixworth, rather than sleep at the hospital, his wife Helen told police.

Mrs Patel said in a statement that after her husband's phone cut off suddenly she had tried unsuccesfully to call him back 14 times. She then started to drive along his route home but was met by police who said there had been a collision.

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Lorry driver Peter Stimpson said in a statement that he had seen Dr Patel's car come around a bend and start to drift across to the wrong side of the road.

Mr Stimpson said that despite braking and pulling his lorry to one side there was nothing he could do to avoid the impact in which severe damage was caused to both vehicles.

Dr Patel, who was declared dead at the scene, had sustained a broken neck and other injuries, said Assistant Suffolk Coroner Yvonne Blake. At yesterday's inquest in Bury St Edmunds she recorded a conclusion that Dr Patel had died as a result of his car being involved in a collision with a heavy goods vehicle.

Following the inquest, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital paid tribute to Dr Patel who was said to have had 'a bright future ahead of him in medicine.'

A statement from the hospital said: 'Dr Ronak Patel was a trainee anaesthetist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and joined us in February 2015. He was a highly regarded and capable doctor and was extremely popular within the department. He had recently been working towards his Anaesthetic Fellowship exams and he had a bright future ahead of him in medicine. His colleagues have been deeply shocked by this news and he is very much missed. Our thoughts are with his family.'

Dr Patel, who grew up in Gosport, Hampshire, had studied medicine at the University of Leicester and also spent time working at a hospital in New Zealand.

Following the crash his parents Mina and Pat paid tribute to their son in local paper The News and spoke of how proud they were at what he achieved in his career.

'We never knew how popular he was until we read all the tributes made about him on Facebook,' said Mrs Patel.

'His friends said he was very approachable and they could talk to him about anything. He would also talk to anyone who needed a friend.

'Ronnie was an inspiration to everyone he met.'

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