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Troubled student kills herself after NHS label her as 'attention seeker'

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20 year old Hannah was studying French at the University of Southampton when she began suffering mental illness for the first time.  In October last year, she spent 9 days repeatedly asking for treatment at Antelope House mental health unit but her requests were dismissed.

Hannah asked to be admitted for care and threatened taking her own life a number of times.  Despite this, Hannah’s mother reports that her daughter’s please and her own pleas for help from the unit were ignored.

Hannah’s mother reported how she had to stop her from strangling herself and even had to call the police and leave the house for fear of her own life and that of Hannah’s brother’s life.   On that occasion the police were called, the mental health unit was contacted.  It was then that a social worker told the officer: ‘Yeah, I know her, she is an effing waste of space, she’s an attention seeker.’

The coroner investigating the care gave a verdict earlier this month formally criticising the failure of the NHS team supposed to be caring for Hannah.  He stated ‘There was at all stages a failure to appreciate the extent of the risk that Hannah was at in the community.’

Hannah needed immediate help and this was evidenced at the inquest which heard that Accident and Emergency doctors, police and paramedics all concluded she needed help.  Nonetheless the specialist mental health team diagnosed her as simply having ‘attention-seeking behaviour’.

Hannah’s mother said she was now taking legal action against the Southern Health NHS Trust and believes that had Hannah been admitted when she asked for help, she would still be alive today.

A spokesman for the Trust rejected her family’s and the coroner’s claims that she should have been admitted to hospital, but 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 social worker who made the ‘waste of space’ comment was suspended while an investigation is carried out.

By Laura Sheehan, clinical negligence solicitor