Family Campaign To Improve Mental Health Services After Health Trusts Admit Failures And Shortcomings In Their Duty Of Care
A mum whose daughter took her life is marking World Suicide Prevention Day by calling for more action and for young people to be prioritised to reduce increasing suicide rates in Leeds and across West Yorkshire.
Bev Yearwood is campaigning for change after government figures revealed suicide rates among 10 to 24-year-olds in Leeds and across West Yorkshire had increased each year for the past three years.
Suicide rates among young people increase across West Yorkshire
The most up to date figures from the Office of National Statistics show that in 2017 17 people aged 10-24 in West Yorkshire took their lives, rising to 39 in 2018, and 44 in 2019.
In Leeds the respective figures were six, 13 and 18. The city had the highest suicide rate in the age group each year.
Bev’s daughter Afrika Yearwood died after she ‘fell between the cracks’ of mental health services in Leeds. She died in Leeds General Infirmary just weeks after her 18th birthday.
Bev Yearwood instructs medical negligence lawyers following daughter Afrika's death
Following Afrika’s death, her mum Bev, 51, of Rothwell, Leeds, instructed expert medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate her care under Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust and Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. It followed an internal NHS report that had identified ‘failings’ in the lead up to Afrika’s death.
At a subsequent inquest, coroner, Kevin McLoughlin, issued a ‘prevention of future deaths order’ demanding the Trusts set out how they intended to improve services to reduce the risk of a similar incident happening. Mr McLoughlin recorded a narrative conclusion in which he said Afrika was never diagnosed and that there were a “catalogue of missed opportunities” to help her.
Afrika's care was below standard
During a subsequent legal case Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust admitted Afrika’s care fell below a reasonable standard. Meetings to discuss her care were not arranged and Afrika wasn’t adequately monitored between 7 March and 20 April, 2018, the Trust admitted.
Despite several failures identified in the NHS report and missed opportunities which Afrika’s inquest highlighted, the Trusts have denied liability for Afrika’s death but have made an offer for an out of court settlement.
Expert Opinion“More than three years on Bev and the rest of the family understandably remain devastated by their loss and how more should have been done to help Afrika.
“Her death is a stark reminder of the consequences families can be left to face when people don’t receive the support they need.
“That the suicide rate among people in the area is increasing is particularly worrying. These aren’t just numbers. Behind every number is a personal tragedy of families being ripped apart.
“While there may not be care issues in every case, it’s vital that where appropriate, young people receive the help and support they need and lessons are learned to reduce the number of young people dying.
“We will continue to support Bev in her campaign to improve mental health services.” Victoria Moss - Solicitor
Mum campaigns to improve mental health services
Bev is continuing to work with the Trusts to ensure improvements are made and that the actions plans are implemented and lessons are learnt.
She said: “Afrika was adored by her family and many friends and is sadly missed by everyone but not forgotten. She was fun, beautiful and intelligent and had a great life ahead of her.
“Coming to terms with the circumstances as to why she died and that Afrika will never get to fulfil her potential is something our family have struggled to accept. Bereavement by suicide is a complex and complicated journey that no one should have to endure.
“The last three years and trying to get all possible answers regarding Afrika’s death has been a continuous fight. I feel that the Trusts could have been more forthcoming and open at times.
“While progress has been made, more needs to be done to improve mental health services and stop young people falling through the cracks. That more young people are taking their lives is a real vindication to keep campaigning for change to help some of society’s most vulnerable.
“Our daughter only suffered with mental health problems for five months before she died. It’s unacceptable that waiting lists for therapy can exceed six months. My message to all those professional working in mental health is if someone says they may do something soon, please believe them and don’t wait for them to have an imminent plan.
"I am determined to honour Afrika’s memory by bringing about positive change. I would urge all mental health trusts to embed a culture where they work in partnership and communicate effectively with families and carers so young people can receive the best possible care.
“Where things do go wrong there needs to be transparency so families can understand exactly what has happened to their loved ones and don’t have to fight so hard to get those answers. Real change can only happen when one acknowledges their mistakes.”
Afrika, who was studying for her A Levels, had been seeing a private therapist since December 2017.
She first attempted to take her life on 24 February, 2018. Afrika first underwent a NHS assessment by Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust on 7 March, 2018.
The Trust accepted that the assessment on 7 March was not comprehensive enough and that no potential alternative diagnosis was flagged nor a follow up meeting arranged to establish a working diagnosis which constituted a breach of duty. Afrika should have been offered a follow up appointment with CAMHS or the transition team which would have led to meetings with adult mental health services.
Afrika was referred back to primary mental health services in May after been refused by adults mental health services in April and underwent consultations on May 3 and 17.
During her assessment on 17 May with a primary mental health practitioner she stated that she was struggling to cope with suicidal thoughts and may do something soon. She was referred to the adult services run by the Leeds and York NHS Trust that day. However, her appointment was for 31 days’ time. Unfortunately there was no contact with Afrika’s parents about what she had said.
Leeds and York Partnership NHS Trust admitted that following her referral to the Trust on 17 May, 2018, Afrika should have been contacted within a day to book an appointment within seven days with a view of undertaking a gatekeeping appointment. It was admitted that the 31 day appointment was not appropriate.
Find out more about our expertise in supporting families affected by mental health care issues at our dedicated medical negligence section. Alternatively to speak to an expert contact us or call 0370 1500 100.
World Suicide Prevention Day is on 10 September. For more information visit https://www.iasp.info/wspd2021/