Inquest into vulnerable woman’s death at psychiatric hospital hears of care worker assault

A mother broke down in tears as she told an inquest that the death of her “vulnerable” daughter at a private psychiatric hospital was “preventable”.

Katharine Stamp, 30, who had suffered from health problems since she was a teenager, was found dead at The Dene hospital in West Sussex on March 26 2015.

Her mother Stella Burgess told West Sussex Coroner’s Court that a care assistant was prosecuted for assaulting her daughter in 2014.

Ms Burgess said: “We are heartbroken to find out one of the health care assistants hit Kate’s head against the floor three times and stamped on her but no one told us.

“Kate was very unwell at the time and vulnerable.”

Ms Burgess said the family were not told of her ill health in the last few days of her life and it was “unusual for Kate to make any sort of fuss about things”.

Pausing through her tears, Ms Burgess said: “I feel very strongly that Kate’s death was avoidable.

“My family and I are completely beside ourselves following Kate’s death and are very concerned that she did not get the support or care that she desperately required at The Dene.

“I am bewildered by the fact that we were not kept informed by the hospital. I feel that her death was preventable.”

Ms Stamp (pictured), who was obese, a smoker and had a history of chest infections and coughs, was sectioned and admitted in September 2012.

There are reports that she had sleep apnoea, a condition that causes breathing to stop and start while people sleep, the court heard.

Ms Burgess said her daughter “would not have the capacity” to say anything about the sleep apnoea and generally under-reported symptoms when she felt ill.

At the time of her death The Dene was run by Partnerships in Care Ltd, but following a corporate merger in 2016 management was assumed by the Priory Group.

The Dene changed its name to Priory Hospital Burgess Hill in 2018, according to lawyers for Ms Stamp’s family.

Ms Burgess described communication with staff and trying to arrange visits as “difficult”.

She was told in summer 2013 that her daughter had double pneumonia but was only later informed by apologetic staff that she had been in hospital.

The family were concerned by the possible sleep apnoea and wanted it to be further investigated by staff.

Ms Stamp’s mood improved enough for her to spend Christmas 2014 with her family but she later became disoriented.

Ellie Stamp, 31, said she was “furious” when she heard about the assault on her sister.

She said she sent emails and made many unsuccessful requests for information about her sister’s treatment, mood and state of health.

She said she had “grave concerns” about the care her sister was given and described her physical health as being “precarious”.

Toxicologist Professor Robert Flanagan has said it was “more likely than not” that the anti-psychotic drug Clozapine may have been an underlying cause of death.

A post-mortem examination found the cause of death as aspiration pneumonia and it was reported the levels of the drug in her blood were not thought to have been in excess.

Specific levels of Clozapine were not tested for in post-mortem examinations, the court heard.

Ward manager Craig McMillan apologised to Ms Stamp’s family after hearing at the inquest they had not been told about the assault.

He described the hospital as busy and chaotic at times but said there were enough staff.

He recalled that Ms Stamp was “well liked by staff”. There were points when she could be “quite aggressive” but she would be happy to work with staff to calm down, he added.

Social worker Carmen Deac said that arranging visits at the hospital depended on individual circumstances and generally some relatives only wanted to attend at the weekends when there was limited space and time.

Healthcare worker Julie Jones recalled being among the “various people who had a conversation” with Ms Stamp about trying to eat healthily. This proved unsuccessful.

She said she was also aware that Ms Stamp sometimes went to the hospital’s sports hall.

The hearing was adjourned to Wednesday at 10am.

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