Article by James Gillespie Published: 15 September 2013.
A CORONER has condemned an NHS mental health team, which had dismissed a suicidal 20-year-old student as an “effing waste of space” hours before she took her own life.
For nine days Hannah Groves, who was studying French at Southampton University, made repeated requests to be admitted to the Antelope House mental health unit in the city, warning that she wanted to kill herself.
On the morning of October 22 last year, Hannah was assessed at a police station and an officer telephoned the mental health team. He spoke to a member of staff who told him: “Yeah, I know her, she is an effing waste of space, she’s an attention seeker.” Three hours later Hannah strangled herself with belts and scarves.
“If she had been admitted for treatment I believe Hannah would still be alive,” said her mother Mandy Park, 43.
She said her daughter’s mental health had deteriorated rapidly and despite never previously showing signs of psychiatric problems, Hannah had begun suffering panic attacks and had to be prevented from strangling herself.
“It was like she was possessed” Park said.
“I once found her under the quilt with belts and scarves tied around her neck, turning blue. But we just couldn’t get the help that she needed and she wanted.
“I feel completely and utterly failed by the lack of help and care. She was talked about in such a vile, horrific and derogatory way by certain people. It was like being caught up in a horror film. The image of finding my daughter will haunt me for ever and I can no longer sleep at night without heavy medication.”
Over the nine days Hannah came into contact with the health services every day, often through the emergency services who intervened to prevent her from self-harming.
Despite doctors at A&E, paramedics and the police all raising serious concerns about Hannah’s mental state and describing her as a “high suicide risk” the access and assessment mental health team concluded she was just displaying “attention-seeking behavior”.
Park said that when she contacted the psychiatric team she felt she was “treated as if she was in pain”.
“I could hear the sighs on the phone when I told them who I was,” she said.
Following an Inquest that ended on September 6, Keith Wiseman, the Southampton coroner, said in a narrative verdict that “there was at all stages a failure to appreciate the extent of the risk that Hannah was at in the community”.
He continued “It is surely self-evident that by the end of the week it was unsafe for both Hannah and her family for her to be at home. One only has to pause for a moment to visualise Hannah’s mother and teenage brother being forced to leave the house for their own safety in the early hours of the morning and for the police to have to be called, to realise that by then a wholly impossible stage had been reached and that for however modest a period of time Hannah required hospital admission and care.”
Wiseman said that the strategy of “safety first” had not been given sufficient weight by the mental health team and the “number and weight of incidents” over a short period had been given “insufficient consideration”.
He added that Hannah’s behaviour had required more positive attention and “not the almost throwaway line of :well she can always come to see us when she wants to.”
Park is taking legal action against the Trust, which has admitted liability. “My only hope now is that I get justice for Hannah and no one ever has to go through what we have and the torture my darling Hannah suffered,” she said.
Nick Fairweather, Park’s solicitor and a specialist in medical negligence cases, called on mental health services to listen more closely to relatives and not to view “care in the community” as always the answer. “There was a lack of compassion here and the service needs to intervene actively in cases such as this.” he said.
Southern Health NHS Trust rejected the view of both Hannah’s family and the Coroner that she should have been hospitalised, although they accepted that more could have been done.
“We must always strive to support people in their own homes and to be very cautious about admitting people to psychiatric hospitals unless it is absolutely necessary,” the Trust said. “In this case we deeply regret the failure to provide the right level of intensive community support which would have avoided any need for hospital admission.”
The team member who described Hannah as a “waste of space” was the social worker employed by Southampton City Council. A spokesman said the worker had been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Sunday Times.