Natasha Abrahart suicide: University laws to protect students ‘could save lives’

Natasha Abrahart's parents are supporting a petition to make universities have a legal care of duty.

The parents of Natasha Abrahart, who was from Nottinghamshire and took her own life while she studied in Bristol, have said it's important to get changes soon, in order to save lives.

They told ITV News: "Those changes are going to save lives, but you have to start by identifying the problem, and I really think the duty of care could be a good starting point."

Natasha died on 30 April 2018 after suffering from chronic Social Anxiety Disorder.

Her parents are supporting a petition to make universities have a legal care of duty. The petition has been started by another parent whose child took their own life.

Their comments come just a day after the University of Bristol said it is appealing a court ruling that found it discriminated against one of its students who took their own life.

Natasha's parents told ITV News a legal duty of care could be a starting point to save lives.

"What's really, really important is that we get changes soon, because those changes are going to save lives.

"But you have to start by finding out what the problem is, identifying the problem.

"I really think the duty of care could be a starting point, because we want to save lives right now, we don't want to wait for the research in ten years time."

Natasha Abrahart (right) with her mum Margaret.

Since childhood, Natasha had suffered from severe social anxiety and her parents argued that the university did not do enough to accommodate her needs.

She died on the day she was due to give a presentation to a 329-seat lecture theatre audience.

In March, Natasha's parents sued Bristol University on the grounds of negligence and disability discrimination.

In May, a judge ruled the university discriminated against Natasha by failing to accommodate her mental health disability. He ordered the university to pay damages of £50,000.

Earlier this year, a senior judge at Bristol County Court found the university had breached the Equality Act 2010 in the way it treated Natasha, who had been studying physics.

A spokesperson for the University of Bristol said: "Every single member of staff cares deeply about the welfare of our students and, as with all universities, we provide a wide range of pastoral support services which they can easily access.

"Part of this support involves assisting students to access specialist care under the NHS or other providers should they need it, as happened in Natasha's case.

"We cannot replicate all the services provided by the NHS but are committed to working with the NHS and other partners to improve services and ensure we are collectively providing the best possible support for our students."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Natasha’s story is truly heart-breaking and we offer our sincerest condolences to all of her loved ones.

“The mental health and wellbeing of students, including suicide prevention, is of paramount importance to the Government which is why this year we asked the OfS to allocate £15m towards student mental health.

“We expect all universities to engage actively with suicide prevention and last year the DfE co-chaired a new roundtable on suicide prevention in higher education with Universities UK, which combined with the mental health charter has led to tangible action – including the commissioning of a new dataset which will better inform universities’ prevention work.”

 A Universities UK spokesperson: "UUK does not believe that a statutory duty of care is necessary, as universities are already subject to health and safety regulations and duties under the Equalities Act. 

"Universities go beyond their legal requirements to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of their staff and students, to provide support services for those in difficulty, and to work closely with NHS services.

"If additional legal duties are to be placed on universities, above what is required in other adult work or education settings, it needs to be accompanied by better mental health care across the health service and additional funding."