Mum-of-two dies after suffering brain injury from drinking too much water

24 November 2023, 11:07

Michelle Whitehead died from drinking too much water
Michelle Whitehead died from drinking too much water. Picture: Family handout/Google Maps

By Emma Soteriou

A mum-of-two died after suffering a brain injury from drinking too much water, an inquest has found.

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Michelle Whitehead, 45, died in 2021 after being admitted to Millbrook Mental Health Unit in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

Just two days before she was admitted, Michelle was excessively drinking water, the inquest heard.

It is common in patients with her condition - psychogenic polydipsia.

But NHS staff on the unit failed to diagnose the mother at the time, meaning she was allowed to continue having unsupervised access to water in her room.

Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust admitted to eight failings while Michelle was at Millbrook for the second time.

She had previously been admitted in 2018 following a mental breakdown.

Her husband, Michael, said staff should have realised something was "very wrong".

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The mum-of-two was later admitted to King's Mill Hospital and died there on May 7, 2021.

The inquest jury found that she had died after becoming acutely over-hydrated, leading to severely low sodium levels and causing swelling in the brain.

Her medical cause of death was hyponatraemic encephalopathy, acute hyponatremia and psychogenic polydipsia.

Michelle and her husband were together for 30 years after meeting on a bus when he was 17 and she was 15.

They had two sons together and Michelle gave up her nursing job at a nursery to care for one of them after he was born with Down's syndrome.

She was a full-time carer for 19 years.

Paying tribute to her, her husband told the BBC she was "bright, positive and determined".

He said, before her second breakdown in 2021, "she essentially lost all awareness of where she was and what was happening to her. It was a total breakdown from the person she normally is".

Ifti Majid, chief executive of the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said in a statement: "On behalf of the trust, I once again extend our sincerest condolences and apologies to the family and friends of Michelle Whitehead for their loss.

"We are considering the findings of the jury and the coroner. We acknowledge that there were aspects of care which were not of the quality they should have been and will address the concerns raised so that the experience for patients now and in future is improved."

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