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Coroner calls for action after lack of mental health beds in Suffolk led to woman’s suicide

A coroner has called for action after a lack of hospital beds led to a woman taking her own life.

Nicola Rayner was rushed to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge, on June 6, 2023, where she died on June 10.

A prevention of future deaths report found Ms Rayner had a history of ‘poor mental health’ and was not admitted to a ward at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) due to a lack of beds.

Nicola Rayner died on June 10, 2023.
Nicola Rayner died on June 10, 2023.

NSFT offered its condolences to her family and told SuffolkNews that action was being taken to improve following her death.

In the report, senior coroner Nigel Parsely said that, had Ms Rayner been admitted per the wishes of both herself and her psychiatrist, her death would not have occurred.

Ms Rayner was on a hospital waiting list at the time of her death. An inquest concluded her death was a result of suicide.

At the time of Ms Rayner’s inquest on February 23, it was found that operational pressure escalation level at NSFT was at its highest level, with about 20 patients waiting for a bed in Suffolk alone.

On both the day she was found and on the day her inquest ended, no beds were free for informal admissions across the entire country, the report said.

According to the report Ms Rayner was also recommended for admission to a ward on May 29, 2023 but bank holiday pressures including a lack of free beds led to a refusal.

Mr Parsely expressed concern at overall bed capacity for patients seeking informal admission to a ward and said Ms Rayner’s case echoed a similar report from October 2020.

Mr Parsely said: “I am therefore concerned, that any measures that may have been taken in the intervening period since October 2020, have neither adequately, or effectively, addressed this clear and continuing local and national risk of future deaths occurring.”

Mr Parsely called on Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust to take action to improve bed provisions on its mental health wards.

He felt future deaths will happen unless patients have access to wards.

Cath Byford, NSFT’s deputy chief executive and chief people officer, said the trust was working to improve the situation.

This includes working in partnership with its integrated care board to increase the number of impatient beds as part of a wider NHS mental health plan.

She added: “Our new Rivers Centre wards opens in Autumn 2024 and will allow us to increase our bed capacity up to a total of 80 beds, providing an extra 15 beds for the Trust.

“We would encourage Nicola's family to get in touch if they have any further questions or we can support them in any other way.”