Family's fight to stop out-of-area placements one year after tragedy

 Nick Fulcher (left) has fought tirelessly for change at NSFT.

Nick Fulcher (left) has fought tirelessly for change at NSFT following the death of his mother-in-law, Peggy Copeman, at the side of the M11 last year. Picture: Nick Fulcher - Credit: Nick Fulcher

The family of an 81-year-old woman who died on the side of the M11 after she was sent more than 250 miles away for mental health treatment say they want her legacy to live on as they continue to fight to end of out-of-area placements.

Peggy Copeman died on December 16 last year while being transferred back to Norfolk from Taunton, in Somerset, after being sent out of area due to a lack of available beds.

Mrs Copeman, from New Buckenham, became distressed and died at the side of the M11 from a suspected heart attack during the return journey in a private ambulance while under the care of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

Her son-in-law Nick Fulcher has campaigned for improvements and change at NSFT,  including the end of out of area placements. 

It comes as new figures show the number of days that patients at the region's mental health trust spent out of area almost tripled from August to September.

Mr Fulcher, from North Lopham, said the last 12 months had been a nightmare for the family and that he would never understand the decision to send a vulnerable 81-year-old 250 miles away.

The government has ordered the practice of sending patients out of county and far away from their homes to stop nationally by 2021.

He said: "I want her legacy to live on. I want [NSFT] to make sure her name is never forgotten."

Dr Dan Dalton, chief medical officer at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, says there has been a big increase in...

Dr Dan Dalton, chief medical officer at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. - Credit: Angela Sharpe Photography

 At a meeting in October, Dr Dan Dalton, the trust's medical officer, said NSFT was determined no-one frail and older should ever go out of area placement again

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The number of inappropriate out of area placement days have fluctuated through 2020, with patients spending 905 days away from home in March before falling for four months consecutively to 80 in July.

In August patients spent 105 days out of area but that figure has nearly tripled to 310 in September according to the latest NHS Digital figures.

Of those sent away, 75 people were sent distances of more than 100km, with five cases of people sent more than 300km.

On average, most out of area patients were sent to locations between 50 and 100km away.

The trust said it is experiencing a high demand for inpatient beds and has significantly fewer beds than the east of England and national average for people over 65.

Dr Dalton said: "I am deeply sorry for the emotional impact on patients and their families when we have to place patients out of area.

“We carefully consider every decision to place a patient out of area and review our beds daily so that we can move people back to a ward close to home as soon as we can.”

At the October meeting, the trust apologised after Mr Fulcher asked what the trust was doing to ensure no other patients were treated like his mother-in-law.

Mr Fulcher said: “It’s always stuck in your head. We were phoning round concerned and frantically all over London borough to see where she was. We were told they had to pull over because she was stressed." 

The trust has faced further criticism in recent months around out of area placements after 73-year-old Kathleen Cantell was transported from Norfolk to Darlington.

Mr Fulcher said: “This is real, you say you do not want this happening, it should never have happened in the first place." 

NSFT said a number of changes have been implemented including 16 new impatient beds at the Yare ward at Hellesdon Hospital.

The manifesto asks politicians to pledge to get Norfolk and Suffolk's mental health trust out of spe

Hellesdon Hospital. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

The trust is refurbishing a 20-bed ward at Julian Hospital, in Norwich, to increase capacity for older people and has opened a crisis house in the county.

NSFT said no patient is placed in an out-of-area bed unless it is approved by a member of the executive team and a consultant psychiatrist.

A five day inquest into Mrs Copeman's death is scheduled to be held at Norfolk Coroner’s Court from March 1. 

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