Child mental health unit failings criticised by parents

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Christie Harnett died on 27 June 2019

The parents of a girl who killed herself at a mental health inpatient unit say failings have left them “devastated”.

Christie Harnett was a patient at West Lane CAMHS unit in Middlesbrough when she died aged 17.

“If she wasn’t in there she’d probably still be alive,” her stepdad said.

The BBC found at least 16 young people have killed themselves in England’s Children and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) inpatient centres since 2016.

BBC podcast, the Next Episode, discovered that seven people died last year, four in 2018, three in 2017 and two in 2016, NHS England said, in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Christie had struggled with her mental health throughout her life and had been staying in hospital since March 2018, before she died on 27 June 2019.

She was found dead after telling staff at West Lane Hospital that she wanted to take a bath, her stepdad, Michael Harnett, said.

“It’s been horrible, it doesn’t get any easier, especially with the circumstances and everything that has happened”.

Michael said he thinks that staff did not check on Christie often enough and blames the hospital for her death.

“The hospital had decided to change how they did observations” he said.

“The managers didn’t act on any of the complaints that were made so everybody was at fault”.

“If she wasn’t in there she’d probably still be alive”.

People ‘not safe’

The hospital was closed down in August last year after a Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection rated it inadequate.

“People were not safe or being provided with care in line with their needs,” Jenny Wilkes, head of Mental Health Inspection, said in October 2019.

“Observations were not being recorded well, staff training and knowledge of care for young people with complex needs was poor and incidents were not consistently reported or reviewed well” she said.

“There was limited experienced managerial oversight of the wards and a culture existed that was not working to the benefit of the people there,” she added.

NHS England has commissioned an independent investigation into West Lane Hospital, which is due to finish at the end of 2020.

The hospital needs “properly trained” staff Michael Harnett said.

“I know it’s hard money-wise and things, but it’s people’s lives, and the money needs to be spent in the areas that it needs to be spent”.

“I don’t think anybody should keep their job”

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Michael, said he had hundreds of questions about his stepdaughter’s death.

Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, which managed West Lane Hospital, said it was “deeply sorry to the family of Christie”.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to discuss individual care and we are unable to provide any comment in detail due to the independent investigation, commissioned by NHS England” they said.

Gemma – not her real name – was also an inpatient at West Lane Hospital said she had witnessed patients being mistreated and her family had complained to staff and management.

“I first went to CAMHS with anxiety and stuff when I was 12 because I used to get panic attacks all the time” said Gemma.

“Later on I developed psychosis, like seeing things and hearing things other people couldn’t. That’s when I got put in hospital” she said.

“It was bad from the beginning. I just wanted to go home because I was scared” she said.

“They’d just leave you hurting yourself even if they knew that you were doing it – they’d just walked in on you doing it” she commented.

“They just leave you and be like ‘we can’t really help you if you don’t help yourself’ or ‘you’re not engaging'” she added.

“I feel like if I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have gotten as bad as I did”.

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Sam Bonham

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West Lane Hospital CAMHS unit closed in August 2019.

Deborah Coles, director of charity Inquest, which looks at state-related deaths in England and Wales, said: “Too many children and young people are dying in mental health care.

“Despite the government’s promises about prioritising and addressing this, it is deeply concerning to see that such deaths have not only continued but that numbers have gone up.

“Inquests have exposed repeated patterns of failure, ill treatment and neglect in underfunded and hard to access services, which often meet children only at crisis point,” she added.

NHS spending on CAMHS inpatient care in England increased from £341.5m in 2016-17 to £389m in 2018-19, according to a BBC Freedom of Information request.

However, the CQC has cited reasons other than funding shortages for some of the failures in inpatient care.

Its State of Care report last year stated they had concerns about the quality of inpatient wards that should be providing longer-term and highly specialised care for people.

“Our inspectors are seeing too many mental health and learning disability services with people who lack the skills, training, experience or clinical support to care for patients with complex needs” the CQC reported about inpatient care.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are determined to improve mental health support for children.

“Patient safety is paramount and all providers of NHS mental health services must meet the same high quality and safety standards”.

Listen to The Next Episode podcast to hear more.