'I feel let down by everyone' - Family say they were 'failed' over death of anorexic daughter, 15
PUBLISHED: 17:07 08 January 2019 | UPDATED: 07:36 09 January 2019
The family of an anorexic teenager who took her own life say they were "failed by everyone" before her death.
There were just six people in the team meant to be looking after Ellie Long, 15, when the number of referrals they were getting should have meant there was at least 20 people, an inquest heard on Tuesday.
And a psychiatrist, who was one of those responsible for her care, admitted she had not seen documents which showed Ellie had previously written a suicide note.
Ellie was found hanged at her home in Greenland Avenue, Wymondham, on Sunday, December 10, 2017 and was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, where she died on Tuesday, December 12.
Norfolk Coroner’s Court heard on Tuesday how she had been diagnosed with anorexia and depression in August 2017.
A statement from Ellie’s mother Nicki Long said she had thought at first that her daughter had just been getting into exercise and was eating three meals a day, but it later emerged she was flushing her breakfast down the toilet and throwing her lunch away at school.
And the situation became so dire Mrs Long was putting full-fat milk into semi-skimmed milk containers, and flattening thick cut bread with a rolling pin, in a desperate bid to get more calories into her daughter’s body.
Mrs Long said: “She told me she had dropped to eight and a half stone and I told her that was enough.”
By March 2017 Ellie’s periods had stopped and she continued to lose weight. The situation came to a head on a family day out when Mrs Long, her partner, and Ellie’s older sister Hannah, ordered full meals but Ellie only had a salad.
Hannah then found her sister crying in the bathroom.
Mrs Long said: “Later, she told me she was in a muddle, she said she had not been eating and was skipping meals.”
Mrs Long took her daughter to see Dr Sarah Smith at Wymondham Medical Practice and was finally, after a number of visits, referred to the Eating Disorder Service (EDS).
Mrs Long said: “It seemed to me the doctor was not grasping the seriousness of the situation.”
During this period, Ellie - who wanted to be a doctor and got straight As in exams - was admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital because of concerns about her heart rate and was visited by the EDS.
Mrs Long said: “Ellie did not want to be in hospital and was distraught at the idea she would miss school.”
Ellie was told by the EDS she would be put on an eating plan of 600 calories a day, increasing by 200 calories every day.
Mrs Long said: “It felt terrible [for Ellie] like she was stuffing her face.”
Mrs Long said they wrote meal plans as a family, but Ellie soon lost interest.
“Her weight would go up and down,” she said. “On the weeks where she gained she absolutely hated it.”
Mrs Long said the EDS was “disorganised”.
She said: “I know Ellie found them patronising and did not feel like they understood her.”
At the time Ellie was supposed to be supervised at her school, Wymondham High, with meal times.
But she felt the school counsellor Gail Hunton was unhelpful.
The EDS has said they would help with supervising meals at school, but it emerged there was no availability for five weeks.
Mrs Long said: “Every time I left the clinic I would be thinking what a waste of time it was.”
Mrs Long said after Ellie was promised an app to record her food, details were never sent and Mrs Long had to chase this up.
She said the service also chastised the family for not attending a group support group they were never invited to.
“[Ellie] told them a number of tines she did not want to feel this way anymore. She said she felt she was not important to them,” Mrs Long said.
In one message sent to the EDS Mrs Long said: “I can’t leave her as she said she would rather kill herself than eat. What am I supposed to do? Wait until she is so bad she takes her life?”
The day before she died, Mrs Long said Ellie seemed to have been doing better.
“I sent her a text saying I was really proud of her, she was doing really well, she was gorgeous and I loved her. She said she loved me too.”
Later that evening Ellie became distraught and Mrs Long found her crying in her room.
“She said ‘I feel that I want to take my own life’.”
Mrs Long said she was “frustrated and distraught” and took her daughter’s phone and iPad, before going downstairs to call an ambulance.
“They told me there we no ambulances available and they would not come out and they recommended taking her to a walk in centre or the GP,” she said.
But Ellie curled into a ball and could not be moved, so her sister Hannah called the police, but they also refused to attend and instead gave Mrs Long a phone number for Norfolk County Council.
She also tried to call the EDS but was met with an answerphone.
Ellie eventually calmed down, but Mrs Long was so concerned she still removed sharp items from her bedroom and slept in the spare room next door that night.
The next morning, she said she made Ellie breakfast - using two pouches of porridge instead of one, which Ellie ate - before Ellie went upstairs, telling her mother she was going to play The Sims on her computer.
But half an hour later when Mrs Long went upstairs to return Ellie’s devices, she said she forced her way into the bedroom where she found Ellie hanging.
“I shouted for Hannah to call an ambulance. I believe Ellie had already gone before I found her.”
Mrs Long added: “I feel if someone had attended that night Ellie would still have been here.”
The ambulance arrived, but was late and initially went to the wrong house. Ellie was taken to hospital where she later died.
Mrs Long said: “I feel I’ve been let down by everyone. It’s all very well to learn lessons from Ellie’s death but it does her no good now and does not bring my daughter back.”
Mrs Long said: “Ellie was not told what a healthy weight would be. She was terrified by the idea she would put on a kilo a week.”
She said despite records showing she had been given a crisis number, this was not the case, and instead she only had a mobile number for an EDS member of staff which was not answered.
“If I had had a crisis plan I would have followed it,” she said.
“Ellie was a beautiful and intelligent young girl. I believe the severity of her illness was not appreciated.”
The inquest, which is due to last four days, continues.
Psychiatrist did not know about past suicide note
Giving evidence Dr Kiran Chitale, child and adolescent psychiatrist, admitted she had not seen key information relating to Ellie’s history of depression before deciding on her treatment.
And that her notes regarding Ellie had not been uploaded onto the trust’s electronic record system Lorenzo.
She also admitted she could not be sure a letter she wrote regarding Ellie had been sent, and therefore seen by her GP, as she had to leave for a family emergency.
She said: ”Usually I would have seen it myself but I had to rush. As far as I believed at the time it was sent but I’m not sure about it. But when I returned Ellie had already passed.”
She said had she known about Ellie’s previous bouts of depression, and a suicide note written by the teenager, she “would have insisted we kept more of an eye on her”.
But she said the decision to prescribe anti-depressant fluoxetine would have been the same, as it was the only antidepressant licensed for children.