A vulnerable grieving widow has died just days after being allowed to leave a mental health unit. Her brother tells WES HOLMES that he feels his family’s concerns were not listened to.
A grieving brother whose younger sister took her own life three days after being discharged from the county’s flagship mental health hospital has spoken of his family’s heartbreak as they tried to convince doctors the vulnerable widow was not well enough to go home.
Diane Balderstone, 59, was found dead at her Oak Avenue home in Morecambe last Sunday. She had been allowed to leave the Harbour, on Preston New Road, Blackpool, on the Thursday morning, hours before a planned meeting to decide whether the order keeping her at the hospital should be lifted or not.
Her brother, 61-year-old David Crocombe, of Kendal Avenue, said: “It’s the final, tragic outcome that we hoped wouldn’t happen, but the mental health team did not heed what we had been telling them.
“I don’t understand why she was let home. Nobody contacted me or her children. I still believe had she been given the right support she would still be here with us.”
Mrs Balderstone, a mum-of-two, had suffered from depression from a young age – a problem which had spiralled out of control since losing her beloved husband, Maurice, to cancer earlier this year.
She had been admitted to mental health facilities in Chorley, Burnley and Blackpool five times since July, but each time had been discharged after just one or two weeks despite her family’s fears for her safety.
Mr Crocombe said: “When her husband died she managed for a couple of weeks. She then found it became too difficult.
“She self harmed, cutting and scratching herself. I phoned her one night and she was very distressed. Me and my wife went over and got her into the hospital and she was transferred to a mental health unit in Chorley. She was there for a week.
“While she’s in the company of other people she comes off as OK, but when she’s on her own, that’s when she struggles. She came home from Chorley and within a few days she was cutting herself again.”
Mr Crocombe said he informed doctors several times about his sister’s escalating behaviour – but felt his concerns were not listened to as she was repeatedly sent home without treatment.
After self harming yet again, Mrs Balderstone was admitted to the Harbour under section two of the Mental Health Act earlier this month, where she remained for two weeks.
Mr Crocombe said doctors had been due to attend a meeting to discuss her health on Thursday - but the meeting was cancelled after she was sent home suddenly that morning.
Three days later, her body was found at her home by her daughter, Samantha, who was worried because she had not heard from her mum. Police confirmed there were no suspicious circumstances.
An investigation will now be carried out by Lancashire Care, which runs the Harbour mental hospital.
Mr Crocombe said: “I’m going through a whole range of emotions. At one moment I’m angry at my sister for what she has done, then I’m angry at the service for not looking after her, and then I’m thinking - is there anything I could have done? If only I had called her that morning.
“I understand there are financial restrictions.
“There’s a lot being said about mental health and understaffing.“Diane did what she did. Nobody forced her to do it. But I do believe she has been let down by the system.”
A spokesman for Lancashire Care said: “This is an extremely tragic case and our sincere thoughts and condolences are with Diane’s family and friends at this difficult time. “When serious
incidents like this occur, a thorough investigation into the circumstances are undertaken to determine any learning, and any findings are acted upon as soon as this is complete.”
The Harbour facility
Lancashire Care runs the Harbour hospital and is responsible for mental health care across the county.
The trust currently has 337 beds in Lancashire comprising dementia, older adult, psychiatric intensive care and acute treatment beds.
In cases when there is no available bed, the trust reaches out to neighbouring North West NHS organisations to find a bed locally before admitting someone to a bed outside of the area.
There are currently 24 people being treated outside of Lancashire.
On average, the trust admits seven people per day.
Diane Balderstone’s tragic death comes after the similar deaths of two other vulnerable women who attended the Harbour.
Tracey Lynch, 39, caused a serious crash on the M55 when she grabbed the steering wheel after a lone therapist was tasked with driving her to the Oswald House rehab unit, Oswaldtwistle, in September 2014. She was detained under the Mental Health Act and taken to the Harbour, but was later released without being assessed. She was found dead in October.
And on July 30, 2015, 20-year-old Sally Hickling was found dead at the hospital. Her inquest ruled that experts at the Harbour “inappropriately” reduced her observation levels and left her alone for 21 minutes – more than double what they should have.
Her paperwork was signed off by Dr Chandrashekar Gangaraju, the same doctor who allowed Miss Lynch to leave without being assessed.
Senior coroner Michael Singleton, now retired, said the circumstances of Miss Lynch’s death indicated a ‘serious systems failure’ at the Harbour. He said she had been discharged “without carrying out any form of assessment whatsoever, and with only a cursory glance at previous records”.
Dr Gangaraju immediately rescinded the section three and, without any consideration of the change in circumstance and the presentation of Miss Lynch, arranged for her immediate discharge to Oswald House.”