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EDP: 81-year-old gran should not have had to die on the roadside on M11

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Daniel Moxon and Clarissa Place of the Eastern Daily Press report:

The family of an 81-year-old have told of their anger that she faced the indignity of dying on a roadside on the M11 – because she had been sent hundreds of miles from home for mental health treatment.

Peggy Copeman passed away on Monday from a suspected heart attack while being transported back to Norfolk from Devon, where the pensioner had been sent because there were no suitable beds closer to home.

Her family say that she should not have been sent more than 280 miles away in the first place – and that she should not have been put in a position where she had to die on the hard shoulder in such a way.

Her death is the latest in a string of shocking stories to have emerged in recent years relating to so-called ‘out-of-area’ mental health treatment, which is normally required due to a lack of suitable beds in Norfolk and Suffolk.

The culture at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) is toxic.

The values of its Board and management are disgraceful.

NSFT has been underfunded for years.

Patients, carers, families and front line staff have paid the price.

Mrs Copeman’s son-in-law Nick Fulcher said: “We want answers – this should never have been allowed to happen.”

Yet it has been allowed to happen again and again and again.

Neil Jewell died after being restrained and transported from Norwich when there were no local beds, having been neglected as a result of mental health cuts. NSFT said lessons will be learned but continued cutting beds and mental health services. NSFT has re-employed, on a doubled salary, the manager who oversaw the destruction of mental health services in Norwich, where Neil Jewell lived, as Deputy Chief Operating Officer. Every Service Director at NSFT now reports to Amy Eagle, which is an insult to the memory of all those who died.

Alan Butcher, 82, was transported from the James Paget to Bradford under section under the Mental Health Act because of a lack of suitable beds. He was elderly and frail with a wife with motor neuron disease. In Bradford, Alan Butcher was assaulted, had numerous unexplained bruises, caught pneumonia and died. His wife never saw him again. NSFT said lessons will be learned.

The married pensioner, from New Buckenham, began suffering from severe mental ill health for several weeks but because there were no suitable places in this region, she was sent to a specialist hospital in Devon on Friday.

Yet again, Peggy Copeman was another who was allowed to deteriorate for weeks in the community, no doubt due to community and crisis team cuts and lack of beds.

The private hospital to which Peggy Copeman was sent is run by Cygnet and US-owned.

In 2019, Cygnet had nine hospitals failed by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Cygnet has been criticised at inquests into murder and suicide. Cygnet had cruelty exposed in a BBC documentary. Cygnet staff have been arrested for abuse.

NSFT thought a Cygnet hospital hundreds of miles away was a suitable place to send Peggy Copeman, as Cygnet’s boss’ wages rose from £508,000 to £935,000 and its directors’ pay increased from £912,000 to £2.4m.

NSFT has cut dozens of beds for the elderly. One of the managers most involved in the cuts and radical redesign, Claire Lussignia, has been promoted to be the Clinical Director of mental health services in Norwich and North Norfolk in the disastrous radical restructure, despite her appalling track record and being one of the least-qualified clinicians in the county (she is a not a doctor of medicine or psychology). But she does have ‘sloping shoulders’ and is a member of the ruling clique.

Clinicians say Lussignea has been virtually invisible to front line staff in the months since her employment. Despite being given a completely unnecessary six sessions of backfill for clinical leadership, given her insubstantial clinical workload, Lussignea has secured additional funding so that she can try to persuade others to do much of the clinical leadership which she can’t or doesn’t want to do herself, at the expense of patients of course. But what happens to the patients not seen while former, self-proclaimed or genuine clinical staff sit in their offices answering emails or in endless meetings?

The new Chief Medical Officer of NSFT, Dan Dalton, was ‘promoted’ after only a very few weeks in his first significant clinical leadership role at NSFT in West and South Norfolk. Since Dalton’s remarkable appointment, NSFT has not bothered to appoint a replacement as Clinical Director in West and South Norfolk, on either a permanent or interim basis. So much for NSFT being clinically-led. Watch as ‘clinically-led’ NSFT either promotes a radical redesign hero into the vacant post or puts somebody in supposed charge who doesn’t actually work in the teams delivering services in the area (as was the case with Dalton). Or both. That’s okay, of course, because the true role of a Clinical Director is to sit in endless meetings and agree to whatever the Service Director says, in exchange for some cash and seeing less pesky patients.

Plus ça change.

Nothing will change until the current management is removed, clinicians are genuinely engaged and empowered, there is genuine co-production and years of funding cuts are reversed. But each alone will be insufficient to deliver decent mental health services.

Then, on Monday, December 16, a private ambulance picked her up after a bed was found in Julian House in Norwich. But four hours into the journey she became distressed, stopped breathing and later died.

This is yet another appalling example of the cuts and mismanagement at NSFT.

Peggy Copeman wasn’t in an ambulance with paramedics.

She was in a minibus with two poorly-paid staff who had received a day’s training in life support.

How many more deaths?

Mr Fulcher also believes she had suffered a urinary tract infection in the Devon hospital, so should not have been allowed to travel in the first place.

If Peggy Copeman was ill enough to need to be transported hundreds of miles to a £500+ per night private hospital, surely she deserved a real ambulance with paramedics? Mrs Copeman was physically and mentally ill.

He added: “When we found out something was wrong we were frantic.

“I was ringing every hospital in London and no-one knew anything. We were completely in the dark.

“We were so happy it had been resolved and then this happens. All we know is she got distressed and died while on the way to Norwich.

“My wife is with her father, looking after him. Obviously they’re both devastated. I am too – we always got along well.”

It is not the first time the North Lopham family has felt left down by the trust after struggling to get treatment for their ill son Kieran in 2015.

Mr Fulcher added: “First our son who was let down and now this, it’s exhausting. We just want to know what went wrong and why we weren’t told what was going on.”

NSFT has been letting down families, sometimes the same family several times, for years.

The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk has hit out at the lack of beds in the area which results in people being sent out of county.

A campaign spokesman said: “It is clearly dangerous and immoral to ship elderly people from Norfolk to Devon while they are suffering from both physical and mental ill health.

“Transported to Devon and dying in a private ambulance on the M11 on the way back is not the way for a Norfolk family to lose a loved one.

“The lack of beds, cuts to community health support and the mismanagement of mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk is a scandal. Too many people have died as a result. Many deaths could be prevented.”

Click on the image below to read the story in full on the EDP website:

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