Norfolk coroner raises concerns after death of UEA student who suffered from anxiety

Eastgate House, Thorpe Road, where the Coroner's Court is situated in the ground floor. Picture: Den

Eastgate House, Thorpe Road, where the Coroner's Court is situated in the ground floor. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2012

A coroner has raised concerns that a student who died at his university halls of residence after developing an opiate dependency 'slipped down the various cracks of different agencies he was being seen by'.

First year UEA law student Christopher Harris, who had been on various medications to deal with the physical and mental health issues he had been suffering, was found dead by his father's partner at the Nelson Court halls on April 28.

A pathologist said the cause of the 23-year-old's death was fatal opiate poisoning, in combination with the painkiller oxycodone and pregabalin, a drug used to reduce the effects of anxiety.

An inquest into his death, which concluded in Norwich yesterday, had heard how a month before his death, a doctor had raised concerns about the amount of medication Mr Harris had been on.

Norfolk coroner Jacqueline Lake concluded his death was accidental but had 'concerns' that he had been involved with a number of agencies but had only regularly been seen by doctors at the UEA Medical Practice as he was not engaging fully with other services.

Mrs Lake said she was also concerned that while concerns had been raised about his medication there was 'no overall, over-arching plan in place whereby these concerns were easily recognised'.

She was not convinced that anything had been put in place whereby individual doctors' concerns about patients would be shared with other doctors and would make a report to try to prevent further deaths.

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Giving evidence yesterday Mr Harris' father Tony, said his son, who developed mental health difficulties when he was about 16, was 'very guarded in terms of his medical condition'.

The inquest heard that Mr Harris, of Gravesend, Kent, had originally started a meteorology course at the UEA in 2012 but owing to his health problems restarted as a law student the following year and then again in 2015.

Mr Harris, whose attendance at university was 'sporadic' had been granted various coursework and exam extensions but was 'not responding to offers of help', had failed to regularly engage with his academic advisor and missed several financial support appointments.

Mrs Lake said she would also be making a report about the university and its involvement with students who are not completing courses, attending lessons or completing coursework as she felt more could be done to support them.

Speaking after the inquest Mr Harris's father said he was 'pleased' the coroner was going to make the reports she was to highlight that his son 'fell between the cracks and didn't get the support that he actually needed.'

He added that there 'needed to be a more joined up approach' to the care of his son who he has described as a 'lovely and caring child who was extremely clever'.