Health secretary Jeremy Hunt admits care for 19-year-old Lydia Stafford, from Congham, was not good enough before her death
PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:05 24 August 2017
A young woman from Norfolk who was “intelligent, loving and full of life” may have survived if the same level of treatment for eating disorders was fair across the country, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted.
Lydia Stafford was just 19 when she was found dead at the foot of Hunstanton cliffs in 2013. She had moved to Congham, west Norfolk, with her family for a fresh start after a battle with anorexia, anxiety and depression.
Now, her story has been featured in a new documentary on Channel 4, where Jeremy Hunt admits she should have received better treatment.
In the programme, newsreader Mark Austin and his daughter Maddy talk about how their family coped with Maddy’s anorexia, and they spoke to Lydia’s family, including her mother, Deborah - who revealed since Lydia’s death she had developed anorexia herself.
The family moved to Norfolk in 2012, when Lydia was 18.
She had been under the care of children and young people’s mental health specialists at the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust.
But because of her age, she was transferred to adult services under Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).
In the documentary, Mrs Stafford said: “[Lydia] was discharged by the Norfolk Community Eating Disorder Service (run by Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust) after a few sessions of psychotherapy because they said her BMI was normal.
“And then she really was genuinely shocked by that because she had had very good support when we lived in Leicestershire and then we moved to Norfolk and it all completely fell to pieces.”
By June 9, 2013, Lydia’s mental health was so bad, she tried to take her own life and the NSFT crisis team visited her at home and arranged to return two days later.
But Mrs Stafford said: “She was expecting a visit on the Tuesday but all she got the day before was a phone call asking her how she was and she said she was fine.
“Her mental state was never properly reassessed again, it was just that phone call.”
Two days later, Lydia told her mother she was going to take her dog for a walk. She said: “Taking the dog for a walk was the one thing I let her do on her own [...] so I let her take the dog for a walk and that gave her time on her own to think that I wasn’t constantly watching her.
“She shut the dog in the utility room, which I didn’t realise at the time, and that was the day she took her life.”
Since Lydia’s death Mrs Stafford developed anorexia herself.
“I had no idea even though I looked after her, even though I was doctor,” she said.
“Unless you’ve actually got it I don’t think you have any idea of the level of distress that it causes.”
Maddy confronted health secretary Jeremy Hunt about Lydia’s case, and the apparent postcode lottery which comes with accessing treatment.
She said: “How is it okay that [...] I found eventually an NHS unit 20 minutes from my house that saved my life, yet Lydia from Norfolk - she had the same illness, at the same time, at the same age as me, yet she did not get the same support I got and she did eventually kill herself.
“Surely it should be a national health service and not a national lottery.”
And Mr Hunt admitted there were problems. He said: “It’s not okay, it’s absolutely not okay, and that’s what we’re committed to changing but it does take time.
“So the way we avoid tragedies like Lydia’s is not through a quick fix, if there was a quick fix, we’d be grabbing it.”
He added: “I think we are making progress. I think we recognise that the service the NHS has been offering is well below what anyone would want for their own children.
“I’ve got two younger daughters and I’ve met a number of people who have been through a total nightmare while wrestling with this.”
Speaking to this newspaper, Lydia’s elder sister Rosie said recording the documentary was “daunting.”
The 25-year-old said: “It was a difficult day. But after everything that happened we feel like all we can do is try to stop similar things happening.”
She said she wanted people to understand that an eating disorder was not just about weight, but about the mental impact - pointing to the fact Lydia had a normal BMI when she died.
“I think Lydia was disillusioned by it all,” she added.
Norwich-based national eating disorder charity Beat also featured in the documentary, where chief executive Andrew Radford revealed their findings into money spent on eating disorders by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
He said: “Over 70pc of CCGs are spending some or all of the money supposed to be used for eating disorders on other things.”
He did not name these CCGs and there was no suggestion they were in our region.
However he added: “The money goes to the CCGs but it’s not ring-fenced. So we’ve heard of at least one area where it’s been spent on their IT system.
“It’s eye-wateringly bad, it’s unbelievable that it’s happening.”
Mr Hunt said: “That’s not acceptable.”
But he added: “Rather than ring fencing what we would rather do is be transparent about what CCGs are doing their job and which aren’t.”
When asked for comment, NSFT directed this newspaper to a statement given last year from Deborah White, director of operations (Norfolk and Waveney).
She said: “Since Ms Stafford’s death in 2013, our trust has made a number of significant changes to our child and adolescent mental health services in Norfolk and Waveney, including introducing a dedicated mental health youth team for young people aged 14 to 25 years old.
“We have apologised to Ms Stafford’s family for the failings in our care and acted on a number of recommendations that were highlighted during our investigation into the circumstances leading up to her death. These included undertaking a thorough review of our community services, ensuring a carer is fully involved in the care plan of a patient, and introducing the enhanced DICES risk assessment training model so our clinical staff can more effectively evaluate any risk.”
• Wasting Away: The Truth About Anorexia is on Channel 4 tonight, August 24, at 10pm.