Teesside mental health trust fined £200,000 over deaths of two women in its care

Christie Harnett, 17, from Newton Aycliffe, died at West Lane Hospital in Middlesbrough. An unnamed woman, referred to as Patient X, died at Roseberry Park Hospital. Both were run by the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Warning: The following article and report contains some details of suicide. If you or anyone you know is affected by this issue, help and support is available here.

An NHS Trust has been fined £200,000 after two women died by suicide whilst in the care of its mental health hospitals.

The Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust pleaded guilty in September last year to 'failing to provide safe care and treatment to two people who were exposed to a significant risk of avoidable harm'.

Deaths in care: What happened to the patients failed by a mental health trustChristie Harnett, 17, from Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, and an unnamed woman, referred to as Patient X, took their own lives using taps in their rooms that had already been flagged by the NHS as a risk but were not removed.

Christie had already attempted suicide using these taps while in West Lane Hospital, and spent time in intensive care before returning to the hospital. Her bathroom had those same taps again, and in June 2019, Christie died by suicide.

West Lane Hospital was closed down two months later after the death of another patient, Nadia Sharif.

Patient X was admitted to another of the trust's hospitals, Roseberry Park in Middlesbrough, in late 2020.

Her room also had these same taps and, like Christie, she took her own life using them.

  • Katie Cole reports

This is the first time a mental health trust in the region has been prosecuted for the death of patients under their care, and these types of prosecutions are incredibly rare.

Former West Lane staff told they were 'being silly’ after warning management about patient deaths

In court today, both families gave powerful victim impact statements.

Christie's stepfather, Michael Harnett, described the day Christie went into hospital as the worst period of their ives.

Her mother Charlotte added: "I didn’t just lose my daughter, I lost my whole family and I lost myself. We are no longer the same people we were. Christie really was the sunshine in our lives.

"Everywhere we go we have memories with Christie and it hurts like hell. We always visit places she loves and pick out clothes she would have worn. Every happy moment in my life is tinged with sadness.

"She is spoken about everyday and always will be. Her death was a massive trauma. I can’t remember her dying. I can’t remember her funeral. It’s a fuzzy blur. I have spent almost five years holding it together.

"If anyone asks I just say I am ok but I am not."

Christie and her mother. Credit: Family photo

Family 'affected for rest of their life' by death of Christie Harnett, 17, in mental health care

Christie's grandmother, Casey Tremain, said: "Christie loved to sing and dance. She loved to watch musicals, the Greatest Showman was her favourite.

"Next to singing, shopping was her favourite past time. Shopping for prom was great. She wanted sparkle, a lot of sparkle.

"Christie was a beautiful, courageous young woman who would always fight for the underdog. She was like a mother hen to her siblings. She was such a warm loving girl who could make you happy by just being around.

"I promised Christie I would get her the right help, I failed her. Seeing her in the chapel of rest was awful. I touched her arm and expected warmth but she was cold and grey.

"In my opinion she was failed on a colossal scale. She is forever 17, dead and buried because people didn’t care for her or listen.

"My life will never be the same. I feel numb all of the time and I am just dragging myself through life. This is me now until I leave this earth.

"My granddaughter died a death that in my opinion was wholly avoidable and which has broken our family. "

Christie with her grandmother Credit: Family photo

The mother of Patient X also read an emotional tribute in court, saying: "The death of my daughter isn’t like anything you can comprehend. I wouldn’t wish the pain and anger on my worst enemy.

"I know I have to be strong for her children but I haven’t had the opportunity to grieve. The only glimmer of hope is that she lives on in them.

"I tell them over and over again mummy didn’t do this because she didn’t love you, she did it because she was poorly.

"My daughter would be proud of what they are achieving. I am devastated she is not here to see them. You will never understand how hard it is to tell a child their mammy is now a star in the sky."

  • Statement from Brent Kilmurray, Chief Executive of the Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust

The Trust's CEO, Brent Kilmurray, has also given a own statement, which reads: "As we made clear in court today, we're deeply sorry for the events that led to these tragedies.

"We didn't provide the care these two people deserved, and the guilty pleas reflect that. Of course, that's no consolation for Patient X and Christy's loved ones, for which I offer our heartfelt apologies. "The CQC has acknowledged in our latest inspection that improvements have been made since then, however today is about being accountable and our thoughts are with the families at this incredibly difficult time."

The Trust has also confirmed Mr Kilmurray will not be resigning.

Following the hearing, Ann Ford, director of operations in the north for the Care Quality Commission, said: “These are tragic cases, and my thoughts are with both families and others grieving for their loss.

“People have the right to safe care and treatment, which Christie and person X didn’t receive from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

“The trust failed to learn from earlier incidents, which could potentially have avoided these tragic outcomes. The trust should have ensured they were providing safe care and treatment to minimise the risks to Christie and person X, however, sadly this was not the case.

“I hope this prosecution reminds health and social care organisations they must provide care in a safe way that meets the needs of people, so they receive the safe care and treatment they deserve.”

ITV News approached the Department of Health and Social Care to ask if a public inquiry would be commissioned into the Trust.

In response, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The safety of all patients is of vital importance, and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones impacted by this tragedy.

“We are committed to providing quality care for all patients and identify ways we can improve mental health inpatient care, better protect patients, and create a safe working environment for staff.”

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