A hospital consultant who had suffered a serious accident later took his own life, a coroner has ruled.
A coroner’s court in Exeter heard Dr Alastair Watt had been signed off with stress, but his wife Ruth Watt claimed he was ‘stressed and overworked’ and had a ‘toxic relationship’ with his medical director.
Dr Watt was found dead in a boggy field near his Dartmoor home with his face partly submerged in water.
The 45 year old diabetes consultant had taken an overdose of antidepressants and insulin.
Senior coroner for Devon, Philip Spinney, recorded a conclusion that he took his own life.
He said that a cycling accident in 2016 which left him with a brain injury had a significant impact on his life.
Mr Spinney said Dr Watt had ‘expressed suicidal thoughts and plans and left a note apologising to his family and friends’ before he took himself off to remote private land where he died.
“It is most likely he intended to take his own life that day,” said the coroner.
The father of 12-year-old twins left a note at his home before his body was found in December 2017 near North Tawton, Devon.
The note was tucked into the back of a pad which revealed concerns for some of his patients and was found on his bedroom floor.
The coroner read the contents in which Dr Alastair Watt wrote: “I apologise to my family, friends and wider healthcare community of North Devon. They have no responsibility to bear.”
He then referred to close members of his family saying ‘each has special qualities and should be allowed to prosper’.
Detective Constable Laura Tasker told the Exeter inquest that there were no suspicious circumstances and no third party involvement in Dr Watt’s death.
She said police did not know where he obtained the insulin from that he used to kill himself but it had not been prescribed.
She added that his mobile phone was examined but there were no messages suggesting he was suicidal.
Some messages to friends referred to medical problems he was suffering from a head injury he sustained in a bike crash in 2016, as well as his return to work plan.
The four-day inquest at Exeter’s County Hall that Dr Watt had suffered a head injury during a cycling accident in Wales in 2016 which left him with a brain injury.
His stress levels increased after the biking crash and he was later signed off sick with work-related stress before he died.
His widow Ruth, a GP, told the inquest her husband told her: “I cannot do this. There is too much work. I just cannot do it. I am really struggling.”
She described her husband’s relations with the former medical director at the Northern Devon Healthcare Trust as ‘toxic’.
Ruth Watt said he was ‘highly agitated’ and he told his wife: “I am single handed and no one is overseeing me.”
Pathologist Dr Russell Delaney said Dr Watt’s collapse and dead was ‘most likely due to the effects of the drugs which led to hypothermia’.
Dr Stuart Kyle, a consultant rheumatologist and deputy medical director at the Northern Devon Healthcare Trust, said his friend’s relationship with the then medical director was ‘not a good relationship’.
Dr Kyle said:”His (Watt) biggest concerns was not letting patients down, they were incredibly important to him.”
And he said he did not want to let down his colleagues because he ‘wasn’t pulling his weight’.
Dr Watt made a bizarre claim that he may have harmed some of his patients but Dr Kyle stressed: “There was absolutely no foundation to them.”
The consultant was born in Zambia and he excelled at sport - playing rugby for Saracens, Barts and the University of London.
He was also a quick runner and after too many rugby injuries, he took up cycling and was known as the ‘Beast’ by his fellow riders due to his hill climbing abilities.
After the inquest, his wife Ruth Watt, who is a GP, said: “It is a tragedy that North Devon Hospital puts its operational needs above the needs of its clinicians and patients. And my children and I live with that tragedy every day.
“I continue to struggle to understand how my husband and partner of 21 years, who had no previous history of mental health problems, could developed such severe work related anxiety and subsequent depression that he could see no future.
“Alastair told me in the two months before his death that he believed he had no future at North Devon Hospital.
“He had been unable to effect any change to his working conditions. He was over worked and became very stressed to the point that ... my eloquent husband became incoherent.
“He explained in clear terms his over work and lack of resources and the decrease in his ability to cope with this work pressure. I strongly believe that they refused to listen to him.
“I believe there were many failures by North Devon Hospital which had a terrible effect on Alastair over the weeks and months before his death, and that senior oversight of trust processes was missing.
“Doctors who are sick, whether with head injuries, stress, burn out, mental health problems, or any other illness must be actively and properly supported by the NHS to allow them time to recover and return successfully to their previous jobs.”
Suzanne Tracey, chief executive of Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Staff at NDHT were devastated at the loss of Alastair.
“He was an incredibly well-respected and well-liked physician and a friend to so many. As always, our thoughts are with Alastair’s family and friends.
“As a responsible employer, we have tried to take all the learning we can from this very sad case and we have asked ourselves what we can do to ensure our staff feel supported, particularly at difficult times in their lives.
“We will now be looking closely at the outcome of the inquest to see if there is any further learning we can take.”
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