ANGRY parents say underfunding and ‘poor professional standards’ in the NHS are to blame for the death of their daughter.
Joanna Lynch had begged for help from Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust’s out-of-hours mental health helpline, Hospital at Home, in the weeks leading up to her death from an overdose, an inquest heard.
But her desperate pleas to be admitted to hospital and threats to take her own life were not acted upon by staff.
On July 4, 2014, after becoming concerned because they had not heard from her since the previous day, her parents called police who managed to get into her flat and found Miss Lynch dead. The 30-year-old had taken an overdose of prescription medication.
At the inquest at Portsmouth Guildhall Dr Ian McCafferty, a locum consultant psychiatrist from the trust, read out details of two calls made to Hospital at Home in the hours before her death in which Miss Lynch told a care worker ‘she couldn’t take it any more’ and she ‘might’ take an overdose.
He said the notes read that the call was ended by the care worker who told her she should prepare for bed.
Her father Chris, from Clanfield, said staff at the other end of the helpline should have called police or paramedics but instead told his daughter to ‘follow your coping strategies’.
He added: ‘What we saw was poor communication. They are undoubtedly under-resourced and underfunded but it was exacerbated by poor professional standards.
‘Joanna would fall through the cracks in the middle. Care plans put in place were not followed up. The Hospital at Home service seems to be a cop-out.
‘My gut feeling, when you look at the root causes of some of the issues, is it was down to lack of communication.
‘There are systemic issues that come up time and time again.
‘For weeks nurses did not turn up for appointments made with Joanna.
‘I can imagine if she was feeling anxiety about things and people did not turn up that can’t have helped.
‘I would like to be reassured that steps are being taken to knock it on the head once and for all.’
Miss Lynch, of London Road, Horndean, who trained as a psychologist, fell ill in her 20s and had attempted suicide many times – but had always alerted police when she took an overdose.
Coroner David Horsley said the overdose was a plea for help and the drugs had acted quicker than she had expected.
He recorded her death as a ‘tragic accident’.
CAMPAIGNERS have reacted with fury to Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust’s handling of Joanna Lynch’s case.
In separate cases in 2013, Mark O’Shaughnessy and Craig Greer took their own lives while in the care of the trust, as reported by The News. Then, the trust said it had learned lessons following their deaths. But following Miss Lynch’s death, it says it has also made changes to the care plans and risk assessments.
The trust added that the care plans reflect an agreed formal plan around crisis management in situations where an individual engages in risk-taking behaviour.
A Southern Health statement said: ‘We had been working with Joanna since 2010, helping her with her condition and to live an independent life. Joanna had seen her care co-ordinator the day before her death and it was recorded that she was feeling much more positive.
‘It is vital that we, as an organisation, learn from this. We are confident that the changes made mean we are better able to support people during a crisis in a way that keeps them safe.’
Asked about the similarities between the cases, the trust said, in a statement: ‘Joanna did make a number of calls to Southern Health which included requests to be taken into hospital. This is something she had done before on a number of occasions. During times of community crisis, Joanna would often make multiple calls to the trust and received support through them.
‘Decisions about the best form of care and treatment are made very carefully and on an individual basis. Admission to hospital is not always in a person’s best interest, and in some cases can cause conditions to deteriorate. Decisions are made on an individual basis. We take into account many factors, including past risks.’
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock, who was awarded a CBE for his work with mental health charities, said: ‘There is always a problem because the resources for mental health have always been at the bottom of the pecking order.
‘No-one should be dismissed in that way. It’s an appalling tragedy. We have got to do something about this. Suicide needs to be taken seriously and the resources should be there. I’m shocked that the team, whoever she spoke to, did not come up with more help for her.’
Carol Elliott, senior lead at consumer watchdog of Healthwatch Portsmouth, said: ‘This is just another example of our health system being put under an awful lot of pressure and not being able to support people at a time when they are in crisis and need support.’