'Lost' patient was desperate and scared

RELATIVES of the desperate and frightened hospital patient who fled his hospital ward only to be found dead seven hours later today told of their ordeal.

RELATIVES of the desperate and frightened hospital patient who fled his hospital ward only to be found dead seven hours later today told of their ordeal.

Scared and confused, and dressed only in a nightgown, Keith Welham ripped out his catheter and colostomy bag before fleeing.

He made it outside to a loading bay before suffering the massive heart attack which killed him.

Today his grieving family paid tribute to a fun-loving man who was “young at heart” but questioned why his last hours were filled with such suffering, and why it took seven hours for his body to be found.

It also emerged this was the second time Keith had gone missing since staying at the hospital - the first time he managed to walk all the way to the family home in Geneva Road, and staff only realised he was missing when the family rang to ask if they knew where he was.

His brother Darren said: “What I want to know is why it took them so long to find him, especially when he had gone missing before.

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“I used to work in the hospital and I know that where he was found was not that far away from the ward he was staying on. It was only a two minute walk away.

“I can't believe it took them seven hours. We were told that someone looked in the place where he was twice before he was found but they obviously didn't look very hard.”

Keith, who had learning difficulties, was recovering from an operation to clear a blockage in his bowel. He was reported missing from the hospital's Surgical Assessment Unit at 12am last Friday . His body was discovered in a loading bay at the back of the hospital at around 7am after a massive search operation involving the police.

His mum Mary and dad John had left the hospital at around 9.30pm that night. Mary, 59, said, although he had been agitated, she thought he had calmed down by the time they left.

She said: “We stayed with him because one of his tubes had got blocked and he had to have a scan.

“He was very frightened. I've never seen him like that before. They told him he might need to have a tube put down his throat (an endoscopy) in the morning. We told him he mustn't worry and I thought he had calmed down a bit.

“They told us he did not have his coat on when they found him. All he was wearing was a hospital nightshirt. If he'd just been going for a cigarette he would have put his coat on. “There's no way he would have gone out without something wrapped round him.

“He must have been in a right state to run out and pull all his bags out like that. I can't believe no-one saw him.”

The family did not know anything about what had happened until they found a message on their mobile phone on Friday morning asking them to call.

Mary said: “I couldn't believe it. He seemed alright when we left. It still hasn't sunk in really.”

The first time Keith, 40, tried to leave the hospital was on the Monday before his operation.

Mary said: “He just turned up here at the house. Darren rang the hospital and asked them if they knew where he was.

“They said they thought he'd just gone out to use the phone.”

Darren said: “He'd walked all the way here from the hospital, so he must have been gone at least a couple of hours.”

Keith, who lived with his parents in Geneva Road, worked at the Allington clinic, in Woodbridge Road, as a caretaker until he became ill. Before this he had worked in the laundry at Ipswich Hospital, so had extensive knowledge of the building and knew how to get outside quickly.

Ipswich Hospital are currently carrying out an in-depth investigation in to Keith Welham's tragic final hours in a bid to understand exactly what went wrong.

Andrew Reed, chief executive of the hospital, said: "It's very important that we conduct a thorough investigation in to what happened.

"It would be wrong of us to start speculating on the outcome prior to the investigation being concluded.

"We owe that to the family and we owe that to our staff. I hope that they would recognise that we will be unable to comment until all of it has been concluded.

"Once it has then we will share the full investigation findings with the family."

He added: "Patients come in to hospital on the basis that they choose to be treated. If they choose not to be treated then they can leave the hospital, but obviously an incident like this raises serious concerns.”