Coroner to write to health secretary after 12-year-old girl's suicide in Northumberland

  • Katie Cole reports

The coroner who conducted to inquest into 12-year-old Charley Ann-Patterson's death will write to Health Secretary Therese Coffey with concerns about children's mental health following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The inquest was told NHS services have seen a "massive escalation" in the number of young people experiencing anxiety and self-harm post-lockdown.

Charley was found dead at her home in Cramlington, Northumberland, on October 1 2020.

She was bullied and struggled to get mental health support in the months before her death, her parents previously said.

On Friday, senior coroner Andrew Hetherington recorded a conclusion of suicide.

He said he intends to write to Ms Coffey after hearing evidence about "the number of referrals services are receiving from young people with regard to their emotional wellbeing".

One witness had said referrals from a child struggling with their mental health have gone from one a week to one a shift following the pandemic, Mr Hetherington told the hearing.

He said the reason is "complex, including the impact of Covid-19, an increase in anxiety, body image, OCD, self-harm and overdoses".

"I will write to Therese Coffey to highlight the concerns I have heard and to see if actions can be taken," Mr Hetherington added.

The family of Charley-Ann Patterson have previously said she was bullied and claimed she struggled to get mental health support. Credit: Family photo

The inquest at Northumberland Coroner's Court previously heard evidence from Ellis Parker, a nurse practitioner with the universal crisis team for children and young people at Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the region's mental health services.

Since the end of lockdown, the service has seen "a massive escalation" in the number of young people experiencing mental health issues, including "a lot of school anxiety, issues with bullying and OCD", Ms Parker said.

"During Covid-19 we were really quiet in the beginning. People were trying to avoid services because of the outbreak, then when children have went back to school it has created a lot of issues," she told the inquest.

Gill Travers, the designated safeguarding lead at Charley's school, Cramlington Learning Village, told the inquest the number of pupils experiencing anxiety and self harm "is increasing post-pandemic".

When Charley was at the school, around 36 children were classed as "the most vulnerable" but there had since been "a further 100 or so", Ms Travers said.

In the period leading up to Charley's death, she suffered from bullying which took place "overwhelmingly by electronic devices" and was likely to have happened outside school, Mr Hetherington concluded.

Charley's mother described her as 'a firecracker from day one'. Credit: Family photo

After the hearing, Charley's family paid tribute to the caring, animal-loving 12-year-old.

They have been campaigning for Charley's Law, which calls for improvements in mental health provision for young people, including that they should be seen within a month of asking for professional help.

The family also called on schools to educate children at a younger age about bullying and safety online.

They said: "This week has been incredibly difficult for us as some of the evidence that we have listened to has been heart-breaking.

"However, we know that this has needed to happen and has shed light on what needs to be done, and the fact that the coroner felt the need to make a prevention of future deaths report to the Secretary State for Health and Social Care shows that this is such a significant and national issue and needs urgent attention by the Government.

"We hope this, combined with our campaign, helps to prevent future deaths."

After the inquest, Rajesh Nadkarni, Medical Director and Deputy Chief Executive of Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear NHS Trust said: “Our hearts go out to Charley’s family at this incredibly difficult time. The death of a child is something no parent should face.

"We have made improvements and every child assessed is now discussed at daily multi-disciplinary meetings ensuring that all recommendations are actioned including those involving risk and safeguarding. 

"We welcome the coroner’s intention to write to the Secretary of State for Health and Social care acknowledging the increasing pressure mental health services are experiencing."