Vulnerable woman killed herself while waiting psychiatric care decisions, inquest told

An “extremely kind, thoughtful and talented” former teacher who suffered from a severe eating disorder took her own life while awaiting clinical decisions regarding her psychiatric care, an inquest has heard.

Rebecca Hursey was tormented for years by “constant intrusive thoughts” about foods, fluids and vitamins, and routinely self-harmed after eating as she believed she was “feeding evil inside her”, her mother told Inner West London Coroner’s Court.

The 39-year-old, from Leicester, died after her third overdose attempt in just over a year, and was pronounced dead in the early hours of May 4 last year after suffering cardiac arrest at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London.

She was found unwell on the morning of May 3 on the Avalon Ward at the Springfield psychiatric hospital (pictured) in Tooting, where she had been an in-patient for five years.

Her parents Ruth and Michael Hursey, from Swindon, Wiltshire, attended the first day of her inquest on Tuesday, which is being heard by a jury.

They said she had made good initial progress at the specialist facility but then “fell off her food plan” after the ward was refurbished in 2015 and the number of patients rose from 15 to 23.

Ms Hursey, who needed regular blood transfusions under restraint to treat her severe anaemia, was detained under the Mental Health Act in 2016 after a number of aspirin tablets were found in her room, the inquest heard.

Retired head teacher Mr Hursey said he and his wife grew to feel “completely abandoned” by Avalon staff and said his daughter was left without her “only life line” after being told regular sessions with her psychotherapist would be stopped in early 2018.

Days before her death, a planned meeting regarding her future care was postponed by two weeks which the parents said they “really believe was the final straw for Rebecca”.

They added: “She was in pain and desperate for a decision to be made about next steps.”

Ruth Hursey said her daughter was a devoted church-goer, a “talented artist” and a “wonderful teacher” who had achieved a first-class degree in English and Psychology from Leicester University.

She said: “Rebecca was an extremely kind, thoughtful, bright, and talented lady.

“She had many close friends and maintained friendships in Leicester as well as making new friends.

“Even during her time on the ward she tutored a young person through her psychology A-level.

“Rebecca battled for many years with a serious atypical eating disorder as well as depression.

“She suffered from constant intrusive thoughts about foods, fluids, drugs, vitamins.

“When taking these in, her thoughts would tell her she was feeding evil inside her.

“Only self-harm would give her some relief for a short period.”

Her mother said Ms Hursey also had a history of trying to “decontaminate” foods with items like washing-up liquid.

In 2017, Ms Hursey had attempted to take an overdose on two occasions, in March and November, and after the first attempt was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder.

The second attempt came after she was forcibly restrained by eight people to receive an iron transfusion, which she was “terrified” of receiving due to her “phobia of pure nutrients”, Mr Hursey said.

The cause of death was given as multiple organ failure and salicylate (aspirin) poisoning, according to a post-mortem examination carried out by Dr Adam Coumbe.

The post-mortem also found excess fluid in Ms Hursey’s lungs, acute problems with her kidneys and swelling on the brain.

Mr Hursey added: “Losing Rebecca has deeply affected her family and friends.

“We believe her death could have been prevented if she had received the right treatment for her complex mental health issues.

“We sincerely hope some lessons will be learnt.”

The inquest, before Dr Fiona Wilcox, is listed for 10 days.

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