Junior doctor Rose Polge struggled with self-doubts, inquest told


A junior doctor who killed herself at the height of the dispute between the Government and NHS workers had serious concerns about remaining in the profession in the hours before she died, an inquest has heard.

Rose Polge, 25, struggled with crippling self-doubt and considered a change of career despite being described by colleagues at Torbay Hospital in Devon as "one of the best".

Her long-term boyfriend, fellow doctor Alasdair Hawley, described how Dr Polge had spent the night before her death walking along the beach near their home in Torquay trying to decide what to do.

In a statement read during the inquest in Torquay, Dr Hawley said he left work early to talk with his girlfriend after becoming increasingly concerned about her mental state.

However, by the time he arrived home at around 4pm, she had vanished. The inquest heard she was last seen a short time later near Anstey's Cove, a shingle beach backed by hillside. Notes were found in her car and at the family home.

Dr Hawley said: "I know she was struggling at work with perceived self-doubts. But feedback was that she was progressing well and was actually very capable."

Describing the last time he saw Dr Polge alive, on the morning of her death, Dr Hawley said: "She looked distressed. I remember her asking me if she left medicine would I still love her."

He described how Dr Polge had doubts about her ability against a backdrop of long hours, particularly during an 11-day stint on the wards.

Her body was found in Portland Bay, Dorset, on April 1.

Coroner Ian Arrow paid tribute to a "very highly regarded" doctor, and described her untimely death as a loss to the profession.

He recorded a conclusion of suicide, and said the cause of death was either from drowning or hypothermia.

It emerged during the search for Dr Polge that she had left notes to loved ones before she disappeared.

It is understood that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was mentioned in passing in the note, which was addressed to her friends and family and was not political.

Little detail about the content of the notes was referred to in court - only that one of the notes read like a "for and against" list, although its context was not explained.

The other note was described as being intended to be read after her death.

The inquest also heard an examination of Dr Polge's computer contained searches about suicide methods, as well as possible career options outside of medicine.

In a statement read in court, Dr Polge's tearful family called for action to tackle the "crisis" in the health service.

It said: "Many doctors work under terrific pressure and over incredibly long hours.

"They cope with fatigue and heavy workloads in extremely busy departments. Doctors' awareness of patient safety issues, together with an emphasis on self-reflection and personal responsibility, can generate massive levels of anxiety.

"Doctors can feel a dreadful sense of personal failure and inadequacy if they struggle to keep working. Sometimes, the despair can be sudden and overwhelming."

The family said a recent General Medical Council survey identified the problem with low morale and heavy workloads, particularly among junior doctors.

The statement added: "Many trainers report that they do not have enough time to provide educational supervision and some consultants are saying that they no longer have sufficient time to support their junior staff in their day-to-day work.

"Our hope is that something will be done about this crisis in the health service."

Dr Polge, who was originally from Cambridge and went to university in Southampton, had been due to meet with her GP later that day having booked an appointment to discuss her mood after leaving work early - however, she did not attend.

The court heard dog walker Glen Warwick was likely to be the last person to see Dr Polge alive, at Anstey's Cove at around 3pm.

In a statement, he said he saw the young woman - who he estimated to be in her 20s - looking "shabby" with her clothes covered in mud.

He said she stopped to say hello and stroke the dogs but then continued on her way. Mr Warwick said he contacted the police after recognising the woman's face on the internet the following day.

The court heard Dr Polge's mobile phone ceased use at around 4.20pm, and that her clothes were subsequently found in a pile near the water, while her car was left unlocked near the beach with a note in the glove compartment.

The coroner, returning a verdict of suicide, said: "I'm prepared to accept that (Dr Polge) has died as a result of immersion in water - either hypothermia or drowning.

"It is clear that she was unhappy, it is clear she expressed (her) concerns with her boyfriend and her GP.

"She has produced a 'for and against' list in her home and written a note at home which she left in her glove compartment. It appears to me that at some stage she has walked down to the coast.

"I'm satisfied that Rose decided to enter the water to end her life."