81-year-old gran should not have had to die on the roadside on M11
PUBLISHED: 06:41 19 December 2019 | UPDATED: 08:05 20 December 2019
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.
Today, the Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Trust (NSFT) confirmed they would be investigating what happened.
Mrs Copeman's son-in-law Nick Fulcher said: "We want answers - this should never have been allowed to happen."
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.
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.
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.
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."
The trust said it was investigating the circumstances with Cygnet Health Care, the Devon hospital where she was sent, and a family liaison officer will be supporting the family.
An NSFT spokesman said they would not comment on individual cases but added: "We are very sorry about Mrs Copeman's death and our thoughts are with her family and friends during this difficult time.
"Our trust will be working with Cygnet Health Care to investigate the circumstances and we will keep the family informed."
A spokesperson for Cygnet Health Care said: "We would like to extend our sympathies to Mrs Copeman's family and friends at this very sad time.
"Although her stay with us was relatively short we maintained contact with the family and will continue to offer our support.
"We will work together with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust to support the investigation as required. In the meantime our thoughts remain with those affected."
Currently 12 people are being treated for mental health problems outside of Norfolk and Suffolk.
NSFT has in the past faced pressure as inpatients have been sent hundreds of miles away from home to receive care.
In April more than 70 people were being treated out of the county. As of December 18 there were 12 out of trust placements.
The Government has said it wants to eliminate inappropriate out of area placements in mental health services for adults in acute inpatient care by 2021.
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."