Suicidal woman left on her own to die

Susannah Anley
Susannah Anley

FAILINGS in patient care at Woodlands mental health unit contributed to the death of a woman described by social workers and medical professionals as a ‘high suicide risk’.

Susannah Anley, 34, of Sandrock Hill, Crowhurst, died at the Woodlands mental health unit, next to the Conquest Hospital, on April 26, 2008 – the day after she had been admitted to there, an inquest heard this week. Hers is the first of three inquests into deaths at Woodlands during 2008 and 2009.

The unit was closed after the third death amid criticism of care there, while a wide-ranging review took place, and was re-opened in July 2010.

Mrs Anley, a former nurse, had a long history of

mental health problems, and had been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder and post traumatic stress syndrome.

The inquest heard she had often tried to cause harm to herself as a cry for help, and had previously attempted to take her own life while at Woodlands, on several separate occasions.

When admitted to Woodlands in April 2008, she was placed under strict 15-minute observations, however, on the afternoon of April 26, had not been checked on for a two hour period because of an incoming patient who required the immediate attention of all available nursing staff.

Mrs Anley was found unconscious in her room at 4.15pm, and pronounced dead by paramedics shortly afterwards.

Dr Ian Hawley, who carried out the post-mortem, recorded the cause of death as asphyxiation. She had suffocated using a carrier bag.

Drugs including the sedative valium, were found in her system, but were within therapeutic levels and had been prescribed.

Gail Salisbury, who at the time worked as a nurse at Woodlands, gave evidence and described the observations of patients as “fundamental”, and “the bread and butter of the acute unit.”

Questions were also raised at the inquest about how she came by the materials to take her own life, and why after her death she was found to be wearing a belt, when the instruction had been given to remove such items for her personal safety.

Mrs Anley’s widower, Mark, spoke out in 2010 calling his wife’s death avoidable, and criticising the East Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the unit.

He said: “On the day she was admitted she was obviously very distressed, but when I phoned her the next morning she seemed reasonably well.

“From the beginning the trust seemed to have no explanation for what had happened.”

No charges were brought following a police investigation, however the trust admitted liability and made a written apology to Mr Anley.

Coroner Alan Craze recorded a verdict of death by misadventure contributed to by neglect.

• See today’s Hastings Observer (Friday, January 27) for full coverage of the inquest.