Family searching for answers three-and-a-half years after death of UEA student
“Nothing will bring Averil back. But we need to protect others from a similar tragedy.”
That is the message from a father who lost his 19-year-old daughter Averil Hart, from Colchester, to anorexia nervosa in 2012.
For the past three and a half years, Nic Hart, along with Averil’s mother Miranda Campbell and the rest of her family, has been fighting to discover what went wrong with the gifted student’s care before her death.
Averil died at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge just 10 weeks into her first term at the University of East Anglia (UEA), on December 15, 2012.
But despite an ongoing investigation, she has never had an inquest, and her family feel a number of unanswered questions remain. Sudbury-based Mr Hart said he “will not stop fighting” until he gets the answers he and his family deserve.
“It’s been a huge struggle and we still don’t have proper answers, three and a half years on,” he said.
Now 58, Mr Hart claims the family has never received a formal apology from UEA, where Averil was studying English and creative writing.
The medical centre there was responsible for her primary care, while the Norfolk Community Eating Disorder Service (NCEDS) dealt with her secondary care.
Averil’s father claims the UEA medical centre only saw her a handful of times, despite the 19-year-old needing regular physical checks.
She was also considered to be a patient at “high risk of relapse”, and had been unable to climb the stairs to her student flat through exhaustion a few weeks before her death.
“The university should not be able to investigate itself,” he said. “I believe they made big mistakes and these have still not been addressed.”
He also feels the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N), which she was taken to after being found unconscious by her student flat cleaner in December 2012, had little experience of how to deal with a critically-ill anorexic.
While there, she had fallen on the ward, causing a head injury, and staff expected her to feed herself from a food trolley, he claims.
Averil, who studied at the Colchester Royal Grammar School, was born a few days before Christmas Day and was considered a “Christmas present for all the family”.
One of the key aims of Mr Hart’s campaign, set up in 2013, is to ensure more is done to help people like her.
“If we are able to improve the situation for students, especially those who are in their first year by introducing mental health organisations like Student Minds to universities across the UK, maybe then lessons will be learned for the future,” he said.
“We’ve lost a beautiful piece of our lives, and at the moment, it is destroying the lives of Averil’s family. I would do anything to change that for other families in the same position.”
Mr Hart also claims a report undertaken into his daughter’s death by UEA was not given to him until last week – despite the university receiving it in April this year.
He, along with his colleague Kate Vango from the Patients’ Association, an organisation which compiled a report into Averil’s death in 2013, are continuing with their independent investigation of her case.
The 2013 report alleged the student, who received five A grades at A-level, had been let down by the medical services responsible for her care.
A UEA spokesman said: “The loss of anyone’s son or daughter is a tragedy for all concerned and Averil’s family have our sincere condolences for their loss.
“We have been informed that legal action is under way and therefore have been advised that we cannot make any further comment at this time.”
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, which runs NCEDS, also expressed their “deepest sympathies”.
“The death of Averil Hart was tragic and we have sent our deepest sympathies to her family and friends,” a spokesman said.
“A formal investigation has been carried out involving all relevant health organisations and submitted to the North Norfolk CCG along with an action plan to ensure that lessons can be learned from this case.
“Actions from the investigation were implemented some time ago. They include ensuring care plans remain as robust as possible and ensuring our most complex cases are dealt by our most senior and experienced staff.”
A spokesman for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, where Averil received emergency care, said: “We offer our sincere condolences to Averil’s family for their sad and tragic loss.
“Averil was cared for by a consultant who specialises in clinical nutrition and was seen by this consultant within an hour of admittance to hospital and received all the support, treatment and specialist care appropriate for a patient with anorexia nervosa who was very unwell.
“The consultant responsible for Averil’s care decided that she needed to be transferred into the care of Addenbrooke’s Hospital because of a particular complication connected to her condition in which Addenbrooke’s specialises as one of six centres in England.”
•For help and advice on how to deal with eating disorders, visit b-eat.org.uk