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New measures to be introduced to deal with eating disorders after tragic death of student

By Josh Thomas | Local Democracy Reporter

Student Averil Hart - father Nic says her death was completely avoidable Photo: Hart Family.
Student Averil Hart - father Nic says her death was completely avoidable Photo: Hart Family.

Averil Hart’s father tells Cambridgeshire health committee that his daughter’s death was “completely avoidable”

Student Averil Hart - Cambridgeshire mental health trust apologises to family after ombudsman ruled there were failings in her treatment and that her death could have been prevented. Photo: Hart Family
Student Averil Hart - Cambridgeshire mental health trust apologises to family after ombudsman ruled there were failings in her treatment and that her death could have been prevented. Photo: Hart Family

New measures to deal with eating disorders are being brought in after the “tragic” death of a student who died from anorexia.

Averil Hart, 19, spent 10 months as an in-patient at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. She was discharged to study creative writing at the University of East Anglia, but was found collapsed in December 2012 and taken to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. She was transferred to Addenbrooke’s on December 11, but died three days later.

The Ombudsman found there were failings in the way Miss Hart, from Newton, Suffolk, was treated, and that her death could have been prevented.

The county’s mental health trust, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT), was asked to apologise in writing to Miss Hart’s family for the “injustice they suffered as a result of the failings” the Ombudsman found.

CPFT was also told to pay Mr Hart £3,000 compensation, and to explain what they had done to show lessons have been learned and actions taken.

Cambridgeshire County Council’s health committee today (July 12) received an update on what is being done to improve the eating disorder service.

A report from Tracy Dowling, chief executive of CPFT said the trust apologised for Miss Hart’s death, and noted that changes would be made as a result.

“The trust recognises the failings established in the Ombudsman’s Report and is sorry for the tragic death of Averil Hart,” the report reads. “The trust has responded with seriousness to the findings, and has put the action plan in place with good rigour.

“Anorexia has a high mortality rate and our patients are often classified as high risk. They are also vulnerable to physical ill health and there is more to do to ensure wider understanding of this.”

In early Autumn the trust will lead a regional seminar regarding safe and effective care for patients with severe anorexia nervosa, focused on where care is shared with GPs and where patients present with acute physical ill health.

There will also be a “clear focus” on the need for acute staff to recognise life-threateningly ill patients with anorexia, as well as recognising “extreme frailty not usually seen in younger people”.

The service will also work with universities where young people are studying. According to the report, the service has provided teaching and training to the UEA (University of East Anglia) Counselling Service and also to Anglia Ruskin University counselling services.

When young people in the care of eating disorder services move to the area to start university, the CPFT service will consult with the university or college nurses, as well as support services and student’s GPs. For students leaving the area, CPFT will make contact with their university wellbeing services and the GP.

The committee also heard that some staff, particularly junior staff, were not confident knowing what information could be disclosed to patients’ families.

Mrs Dowling added that, if patients chose not to disclose information about their health to families, some staff took this as a sign they should say nothing at all. She said more needed to be shared in acute cases, even if some information was kept back.

Mrs Dowling also said staff, even some senior staff, sometimes went through their careers without seeing the full effects of acute anorexia. She said they needed better training to be aware of the signs as, she said, many sufferers could sit up and carry on normal conversations, even while being “extremely frail and near the end of life”.

Averil’s father, Nic Hart, speaking at the committee, said he welcomed the scrutiny of the issue, but expressed his fears that not enough had changed.

He said Averil’s death had been “completely avoidable”. He told the committee the coroner was looking into other deaths “of a similar nature” and claimed problems in the health system had contributed to his daughter’s death.

“It is the lack of basic care,” said Mr Hart. “The Cambridge coroner has set an inquest date in September, and said there are several other deaths of a similar nature they will be looking at. We have a failure of a service here.

“A lot of what Tracy (Dowling) was saying was about patients at A&E. It should never get to that stage. I would like to thank the committee, but do we really think is good and rosy in the garden now?”

Mrs Dowling said a lot of work had gone into trying to address some of the trust’s shortcomings, but said it would be impossible to “eradicate all the risks”. She said some patients simply would not want to engage.

Cllr Linda Jones said getting universities to join up to share information that may save patients’ lives should be welcomed, and said the measures being taken by CPFT should be adopted nation-wide. She referenced the Healthy Universities Network (a UK-wide network which promotes health and wellbeing information among the country’s universities), and suggested they were brought on side to help distribute information that might help.

Cllr Anna Bradnam said many students were facing increased financial strains and stresses, and said she wondered whether this was leading to more young people, and students in particular, to fall out of the “framework” that allowed them to eat healthily on a regular basis.


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