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Saturday, 23 August 2014

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Cumbria coroner slams ‘sorry picture’ of mental health care

A CORONER has issued a damning indictment of mental health services for children and teenagers across Barrow and south Cumbria.

Mr Ian Smith yesterday labelled the systems in place to offer help to young people in the area as a “sorry picture”.

His comments came at the end of an inquest into the death of 15-year-old schoolgirl Helena Farrell, who was found hanged in woodlands near her Kendal home on January 4 last year.

The tragic discovery was made just a day after the talented singer and cellist was assessed as no imminent risk to herself by a social worker from the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service in Fairfield Lane, Barrow.

Mr Smith criticised the organisation of CAMHS and called for better staffing levels and assessments to be carried out by clinicians with mental health training.

He said: “The referral for Helena was triaged twice but no one really looked at it and when they did, they didn’t act. It wasn’t dealt with urgently. Nothing effective had happened.”

Mr Smith recorded a narrative verdict, saying that the cause of Helena’s death was hanging and that she died as a consequence of her own actions

The inquest heard that Helena had taken an overdose of paracetamol on December 3, was self-harming and had threatened to hurt herself at a party the following week.

She had also disclosed she had an eating disorder, stemming from a sexual assault while on an exchange trip to Germany with Windermere School in 2012.

She was later found with suicide letters by teachers at Kirkbie Kendal School two weeks before her death.

But chaos, high incidences of staff sickness and low morale at the CAMHS centre meant Helena was not offered an appointment to see a specialist until January 3, 2013, the hearing was told.

Mr Smith will write formal letters to the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, the body which provides mental health services for children in the county, and Cumbria County Council which is responsible for commissioning a school nursing service.

Dr Sara Munro, director of quality and nursing for the trust, said improvements had already been made to CAMHS such as ensuring all urgent referrals are seen within 48 hours and monitoring appointments daily.

Dr Munro said: “We still have more work to do but we know our actions are having an impact as evidenced in the CQC inspection.”

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