A NURSE has spoken of his ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’ at the length of time it took a children’s mental health service to deal with Kendal teenager, Helena Farrell.
Lee Green, a practitioner at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), which was sent Helena’s file a month before she hanged herself, gave evidence today at her inquest, where he revealed the organisation had been suffering with staff sickness, low morale and the threat of redundancies at the time.
He told the court he had ‘triaged’ her file himself more than two weeks before he was approached by a colleague who had begun to deal with it.
“I was quite shocked she hadn’t been allocated out and I was quite surprised she hadn’t been referred to and seen by somebody,” he said.
“I don’t know, in all honesty, why it wasn’t picked up following that triage. There’s been numerous cases prior to that that have come through and all been allocated out.”
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Coroner Ian Smith told Mr Green: ‘It looks as if the system wasn’t really working’ - to which Mr Green replied: ‘Yes’.
The inquest into 15-year-old Helena’s death began on Monday.
This week the hearing has heard claims children’s mental health services were ‘inadequate’ and ‘in disarray’ in the weeks before her death, on January 4, 2013.
The Kirkbie Kendal School pupil had sought help a month earlier for bulimia and ‘dark thoughts’ but was only seen for an initial assessment at CAMHS 24 hours before she died.
The court heard that Helena’s death prompted an urgent review into the CAMHS service which found:
• there was a failure to record the level of risk she posed to herself
• clinicians failed to understand their responsibilities regarding safeguarding
• there were issues with the competency levels of some CAMHS staff
• there was a ‘distinct and detrimental’ divide between areas of responsibility
• information sharing was ‘inadequate’
Lynette Moore, clinical services manager at the Cumbria NHS Partnership trust, said the purpose of the review was to ‘learn lessons’.
“It’s to change procedure in a timely way so that anything that urgently needs to be addressed can be done so” she said.
“Processes were not robust and were not clear.”
The hearing heard that Helena approached school nurse, Donna Moore, for help on December 3, 2012, revealing she had been sexually assaulted on an exchange trip to Germany around 18 months before.
She told Ms Moore she had been suffering bulimia ever since.
Although Helena went on to take a paracetamol overdose that night, Ms Moore didn’t email CAMHS referring Helena for treatment until December 10.
The email then went unseen because the member of staff it was addressed to was on sick leave.
Ms Moore told the court she had not felt there was ‘any urgency’ with Helena’s case.
“She was a self-assured young woman and I felt if she was going through emotional difficulties she would find the way to work through them,” she said.
However, Ms Moore admitted that she had been covering five secondary schools and more than 20 feeder primary schools while working just 26 hours per week.
She told coroner, Ian Smith: “For me on that day I had to help nine other people as well as doing the actions for them, documenting all the stuff, and I still feel that at the time I didn’t see the risk.”
Mr Smith said: “She was at the time clearly expected to do far more than any human being was capable of doing.”
Helena told several people she had thought about suicide, but had not formed a ‘plan’.
But in court today a statement written by a friend of Helena’s was read out, which said: “She was lying. I could tell.
“I tried to tell people she was lying but they didn’t listen. They all said she was getting better and she was talking truthfully to people.
“I knew she was lying but obviously nobody would listen to me.”
The court also heard that in the month before her death Helena saw her GP at Captain French Lane surgery, Kendal, but was not found to be at risk of harming herself.
Her file was ‘triaged’ twice by CAMHS but she was not given an appointment until her mother, Maria Farrell, phoned the service on January 2.
On January 3 she was seen by social worker, Anna Wiodarczak, who told the court Helena admitted having suicidal thoughts around twice a week, and that she self-harmed when ‘having thoughts’.
However, no urgent action was taken. Helena died the following day.
Father, Enda Farrell, told the court: “On the day I took my daughter to CAMHS I expected someone of education and with experience would know that my daughter was coming as an urgent referral because she was suicidal and bulimic and I expected something to actually happen there. And it didn’t.”
Helena, a Kirkbie Kendal School pupil, was found hanged in woodland behind the town’s Castle Green Hotel.
She was found at around 6.50pm by former boyfriend, William Williams, now 18, who had been searching the area for her with a friend of his, his mother and Cumbria policeman, PC Paul Kelly.
Helena had previously attended the Windermere School and was a high achiever in both sports and the arts.
She had previously been in a relationship with Mr Williams but they had broken up, leaving Helena ‘heartbroken’.
Mr and Mrs Farrell paid tribute to their daughter, describing her as ‘a lovely girl’.
“My daughter to me was a very bright, intelligent and adventurous, fun-loving, life-loving girl,” added Mr Farrell.