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Family of woman failed by local Mental Health Trust settles claim

A woman died after being discharged from the care of a home treatment team

Posted on 01 February 2016

The family of a woman who died whilst under the care of North East London mental health services has successfully concluded a claim against the Mental Health Trust responsible.

Jane* was 53 years old and had no history of mental illness, when she developed depression and anxiety. Her depression was so severe she had suicidal thoughts. Her partner sought the help of mental health services and Jane was admitted to hospital for inpatient care on two occasions. She made progress whilst in hospital, but was still very anxious about how she would manage at home.

Despite this the hospital chose to discharge her home, to be cared for by the home treatment team just before Christmas. Jane continued to suffer from depression and her family were very concerned about her.

However, in February 2010 the home treatment team told Jane they were discharging her from their care. Jane expressed concern about how she would manage without the support of the team but the plan for discharge went ahead.

Just three days later Jane disappeared from the family home. Her body was found by police. She had died by suicide.

Her family were devastated and so instructed lawyers to investigate allegations of negligence against the Trust. The Trust admitted that their care had been negligent and that they failed to prevent Jane's death. They provided a formal apology for their “shortcomings” and “inadequate” care they had provided.

Jane left behind a partner of over 20 years and a teenage son who were not entitled to claim bereavement damages, the standard award of compensation paid on the death of a loved one, because the law provides that only those who are married to the deceased or parents of a child under 18 are entitled to such an award.

Nicola Wainwright, clinical negligence specialist who acted for the family, said:

 'We are hearing more and more about the crisis in mental  health services in this country and Jane's case is a tragic example of how someone seeking help was let down by those services. In our view Jane should not have been discharged from either hospital or the home treatment team when she was. She and her family knew she was not well but she was not provided with the help she needed. As a result a teenage boy is growing up without his Mum.

“Jane's case highlights that mental illness can affect anyone at any time. She was in her 50s when she became ill for no obvious reason. We should be under no illusion that mental illness is something that happens to other people, not us.”

Nicola went on to say '”The fact that no member of Jane’s family could claim bereavement damages also demonstrates just how unfair the law is when it comes to compensating those who have lost a loved one due to negligence. Death is the worst injury that someone can suffer, yet legislation limits who can claim in the event of a death, excluding long-term partners and children. This is just not fair and legislation could and should be changed.”'

*Not her real name. Her name has been changed to ensure confidentiality.