THE death of a Hereford psychiatrist’s former patient has prompted a look into how the NHS assesses suicide risk.

Dr Suzanne Wille, a doctor at the Stonebow Unit in Hereford, was questioned at an inquest into the death of Paul Phillips who died on May 29 this year, aged 48.

Mr Phillips from Leominster, whose cause of death was unascertained, had been assessed by Dr Wille as having a “Medium” risk of suicide.

The assessment took place on May 3, after he had expressed suicidal thoughts to police when he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of cocaine and alcohol. He was detained under the Mental Health Act and taken to the Stonebow Unit to see Dr Wille.

The inquest, on October 23, heard how Mr Phillips had been an addict and suffered from suicidal thoughts due to worries about work and debt.

Despite this, Dr Wille determined that he had no evidence of mental illness or psychiatric symptoms. She said: “It was particularly obvious Mr Phillips wasn’t mentally ill. We did not pick up any signs of disturbance during the hour or hour and a half. He seemed future-oriented. He wanted counselling and help with his debts. In the assessment, he denied any thoughts of wanting to end his life.”

Coroner Mark Bricknell had previously asked the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust to consider changing their system of assessing suicide risk, asking doctors to consider introducing more “subtle grading” like a scale of one to 10, rather than the current low, medium, and high.

However, Dr Wille said no progress had been made to put this in place, arguing that a different system “wouldn’t make a difference”.

Dr Wille denied grading patients as lower risk because of pressures within the NHS but admitted that she had not checked in on Mr Phillips again after his appointment because staff “don’t have the time to do any follow-ups”.

“He was pleasant with us, but dismissive of help,” she added.


The medical cause of Mr Phillips’ death was unascertained as his body was found seven days after he died. The coroner came to a narrative conclusion that he had taken cocaine and morphine or heroin before his death, as his body was found by police surrounded by drug paraphernalia.

Coroner Bricknell told the inquest: “There were complications in his life, and I acknowledge the medical evidence provided relating to his mental health.”

He read a letter from Mr Phillips’ father Gerald Phillips, which said: “Paul’s mother died two and a half years ago and since then nothing seemed to go right. The state of his finances was in a mess. He only told me what he wanted me to hear but I think that Paul may have had enough.”