An inquest into the death of a stressed and ‘overworked’ hospital consultant has begun this week.

The inquest into the death of Dr Alastair Watt, a diabetes consultant at the Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, began this morning (Tuesday, February 26) at County Hall in Exeter.

The first day of the inquest heard the consultant was found dead in a field near his home in North Tawton on December 13, 2017, after a possible overdose of insulin and prescribed drugs.

His widow Ruth, a GP, said in early 2016 he told her that he was ‘really struggling’ with his workload.

She said the Zambia-born consultant told her he was getting too stressed, saying: “I cannot do this, there is too much work. I just cannot do it. I am really struggling.”

Dr Watt went for a cycling break in Wales but suffered a bad accident when he was thrown over the handle bars and suffered a head injury. He spent nearly a month in hospital before returning home.

By September 2016 he did return to work part-time, cycling 26 miles to do so because he was unable to drive until the next month.

Mum-of-two Ruth, 45, added: “He was pleased to be going back, getting back to normality, but he was quite anxious about it.”

She said he was ‘off-put and angry by the medical director’ because he had said ‘that’s a nice easy return back to work plan’.

Mrs Watt said he was ‘a bit jumpy at work’ but was shattered when he was told to work seven days a week.

She said: “He felt huge pressure from that. He knew they were short staffed and not enough consultants.

“He said ‘how can I do that? How can I cope with that?’.”

He did return to work in October 2017 but Dr Watt was ‘quite fearful’ and ‘needed to tread quite carefully’ in relation to the medical director.

Mrs Watt described his relationship with the medical director ‘as fairly toxic for Alastair’.

The senior Exeter and Greater Devon coroner Philip Spinney told the hearing the inquest was a fact-finding examination and was not about attributing blame or liability.

He said there were a number of statements and exhibits which covered ‘a number of sensitive matters’ and he ruled these should not be disclosed further.

The inquest heard in the months before his death, Dr Watt became more withdrawn.

Before he vanished, he left some notes in their home, and one apologised to his patients for ‘letting them down’.

In the afternoon sitting, a colleague and friend of Dr Alastair Watt said he was shocked by his death.

Dr Stuart Kyle, a consultant rheumatologist and deputy medical director at the trust, said after his bike crash in 2016 he suffered a significant head injury but ‘seemed okay’ when he saw him at home.

He said Dr Watt was more vulnerable about the lack of recruitment because he worked single handed and ‘25-30 per cent of all patients had diabetes’.

Dr Kyle said his friend’s relationship with the medical director ‘was not a good relationship’.

He said: “His biggest concerns was not letting patients down, they were incredibly important to him.”

He said the diligent consultant also did not want to let down his colleagues because he wasn’t ‘pulling his weight’.

On a cycling holiday to the Alps, Dr Kyle said he shared his family history of mental health problems.

“In no way did I think Alastair has mental health problem and at no point that he would contemplate taking his own life,” he added.

He confirmed that Dr Watt had not been responsible for any harm to his patients, as he had claimed, saying of those bizarre claims ‘there was absolutely no foundation to them’.

He went to a hospital meeting in September 2017 with him but said it did not go well.

“Alastair was agitated, incoherent in his thought pattern and he could not see the wood for the trees,” he said.

He added there were a lot of consultants under pressure because the work load was too much.

The inquest continues tomorrow (Wednesday, February 27).