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Man died of heroin overdose one day after discharge from Norwich hospital, inquest told

PUBLISHED: 13:53 28 November 2014 | UPDATED: 13:53 28 November 2014

Norfolk coroner's court in Norwich. Photo: Denise Bradley.

Norfolk coroner's court in Norwich. Photo: Denise Bradley.

Archant 2012

A young man was found dead near Prince of Wales Road in Norwich, the day after he was discharged from hospital.

Christopher Harmes, 27, was an alcoholic, suffered from mental health issues including schizophrenia and had been homeless at the time of his death.

He had been discharged from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N), where he had completed a five-day detox course, after giving the address of a friend where he intended to stay and also his brother’s address.

Despite having no fixed abode, Mr Harmes was discharged on a Saturday morning, when support agency the Norfolk Recovery Partnership was closed.

He died of a heroin overdose the next day, October 27, 2013, an inquest attended by his father and sister heard yesterday.

Police had been called after a worker at Sugar and Spice, a table dancing club, saw a body in a loading bay as she approached a staff entrance at the back of the club.

Detective Constable Craig Leader said an investigation found there had been no third party involvement.

James Crook, whose Union Street address Mr Harmes had given to the hospital, confirmed that his friend came to visit him on his release from the N&N and left carrier bags of belongings at his home.

In a written statement, he said the pair had walked into the city, with Mr Harmes drinking from a can of cider.

He said drugs had not been taken or discussed while they were together, but they had parted ways.

Mr Crook said of his friend’s death: “It was and is very upsetting for me.

“I had been expecting to see him again at some point, although mo specific arrangements had been made, as his bags were in my flat.”

A review into Mr Harmes’ care and into the policy for discharging homeless patients from the N&N was launched in light of his death.

Tracey Fleming, head of therapeutic services at the N&N, said that the social circumstances of patients would now be noted on admission, with “sofa surfers” flagged as well as those sleeping on the street.

She added that the trust was seeking to create a new post for a full-time discharge co-ordinator, as some London hospitals have, to oversee the process of vulnerable people leaving hospital.

Stephanie Butcher, interim drug and alcohol strategy manager at Norfolk County Council, said support services were commissioned five days per week, 8am to 4pm, in line with national guidelines.

She added the authority would be working with the N&N, and with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, to fine tune procedures.

Jacqueline Lake, Norfolk coroner, concluded that the death of Mr Harmes was drug related.

She said she was concerned about the way Mr Harmes was discharged, but in light of the assurances given she did not order any reports.

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