Woman's suicide highlights NHS failings

THE case of a mentally-ill patient who was discovered hanging in a service shaft at a Suffolk hospital has been used to highlight failings within system.

By Martin Davey

THE case of a mentally-ill patient who was discovered hanging in a service shaft at a Suffolk hospital has been used to highlight failings within system.

The body of Ros Dunham, 23, who suffered from an eating disorder, was discovered in the service shaft next to a bathroom on a ward in West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, three days after she went missing.

Her case was highlighted yesterday on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme in which Health Minister Jacqui Smith said her story highlighted a "challenge to mental health services", particularly in the transition of young patients into adult care.

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"This is a tragic story and it highlights a challenge we do have in mental health services but they are things we are working on," she said.

Miss Dunham's mother Gitti said her daughter represented of a large number of young people suffering from eating disorders who were unable to overcome their illnesses as teenagers without depending heavily on adolescent psychiatric support.

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"This support is not available to adults. I think from the moment she was transferred, at the age of 18, to an adult psychiatric unit she was a lost cause."

An enquiry into the case of Miss Dunham, from Bury St Edmunds, lead to local health bosses promising "inefficiencies" would be ironed out, and an eating disorders specialist appointed.

Miss Dunham committed suicide five days after a previous attempt failed, and a subsequent risk assessment carried out by nurses the day after concluded she had no suicidal tendencies.

The programme heard how the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) was currently drawing up national guidelines of how to deal with cases similar to that of Miss Dunham.

Martin Royal, director of strategic development and partnership, said yesterday they welcomed the move in the wake of a story which was "a hard hitting message for the health service".

"This case is a tragedy and the health service is looking now at the needs of people and at providing an improved service in the future," Mr Royal said.

The programme heard how Miss Dunham had suffered from eating disorders for the past 10 years. Throughout this period she had spent much of her time in hospital.

On February 8, last year, nurses found Miss Dunham in a shower room on ward F7 of the hospital with a shower curtain tied round her neck.

She was transferred to psychiatric ward G8, and disappeared five days later. Despite searching the ward, hospital staff did not find Miss Dunham, and discharged her from their care in her absence.

But her body was discovered three days later, hanged in a service shaft next to a bathroom.

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