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U.K. Patient Goes Out for a Cigarette and Never Comes Back


The Royal Gwent Hospital in the U.K. was shrouded in mystery for two days. Rory McLeod, 52, was a patient at the facility when he decided to go out for a cigarette. However, he never returned to his hospital bed. This resulted in a frantic search that lasted two days.

McLeod had a history of alcohol and drug addiction, further escalating the situation. Unfortunately, the staff couldn’t locate him in time. Find out what happened to the 52-year-old patient and how he managed to slip away undetected.

A Confounding Mystery

Mr. McLeod was first admitted to Royal Gwent Hospital on March 31st after suffering from a seizure. According to the official report of the incident, he asked the staff if he could step out to have a cigarette at around 5:30 p.m. on April 11th. Surveillance video shows McLeod having a smoke outside the facility, but he appears to go back inside just 10 minutes later.

However, he didn’t return to his bed.

Ward manager Jade Matthews told the BBC that the hospital grounds and surrounding area were searched when Mr. McLeod did not return.

It wasn’t until two days later that they finally located McLeod, but it was too late. On the day of the search, a janitor at the facility noticed that one of the shower doors was locked. The bathroom didn’t have signs as to whether the stalls were in use. He thought the shower was occupied, so he didn’t think anything of it. However, the next day the shower remained shut.

The janitor reported the situation to a local manager. They then kicked in the shower door to find McLeod inside, dead from an apparent drug overdose.

A post-mortem examination identified the cause of death as “drugs toxicity contributed to by fatty liver and coronary artery disease”. The staff knew McLeod had a long history of abusing drugs and alcohol, but he managed to slip away, nonetheless.

It’s not clear where he managed to obtain heroin at the facility, considering the security video shows him smoking outside for just ten minutes.

The assistant coroner commented, “it was impossible to say exactly when he found himself in the shower.” She added it was at least possible that Mr. McLeod “might have made a tragic and fatal mistake as to his tolerance to heroin.”

McLeod’s brother says he and his family are satisfied with the level of care Rory received. Instead of blaming staff members, he puts the fault on addiction. “We have spent many years trying to help my brother manage his challenges with alcohol and substance misuse,” he told a local news outlet.

Improving Transparency

A local health board investigated the incident and found that the hospital should have had signs above the shower stalls indicating whether they were in use. They also say the shower that McLeod hid himself in did not have a sign “due to age and so it was more difficult to notice that it was continually occupied.”

The hospital has since installed signs above the showers to help providers and staff monitor their surroundings. If the staff had known the shower stall was occupied at the time of the search, they may have been able to save McLeod’s life in time.

Time is of the essence when a patient goes missing. You and your colleagues should be able to quickly inspect your surroundings without overlooking certain gaps or concealed areas. If a patient wants to get away or satisfy their addiction while they are in your care, they could resort to hiding in some strange places. 

Use these tips to improve transparency and visibility:

  • Improve the lighting to see more of your surroundings.
  • Install sensors or visual indicators above stalls, bathrooms, and other private areas, so you know if they are in use.
  • Get rid of empty space under beds, behind crawlspaces, and throughout patient rooms to limit the number of hiding places.
  • Keep staff areas locked at all times, including storage closets, staff bathrooms and common areas.
  • Consider creating a designated smoking or walking area for patients, such as a self-contained courtyard, so they don’t have to go out the front door or stray too far from the property.
  • Improve patient access to mental health and substance abuse counseling services.
  • Identify incoming patients if they have a history of addiction as well as those who may pose a danger to staff or themselves. Keep an eye on these individuals to make sure they stay safe while they are in your care.

Get rid of hiding places at your facility to keep your patients in bed where they are safe. 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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