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Out-of-area patient with autism died in 'cry for help', inquest jury finds


A young woman patient, who was living with autism, died after opportunities were missed to place her in a psychiatric hospital closer to her home, an inquest jury has found.

Lauren Bridges, 20, from Bournemouth, who had previously begged to be removed from the hospital, killed herself at Priory Hospital Cheadle Royal near Stockport, Greater Manchester, in February 2022.

Recording a conclusion of misadventure after the four-week inquest, the jury said her act was a "cry for help due to a lack of family contact."

Ms Bridges was "deeply distressed" after being moved 250 miles from her home in Dorset, the court previously heard.

She was given one hour's notice of the transfer to Stockport from a locked ward in Dorking, Surrey, the hearing was told.

She was "hysterical" when she was given an hour to pack before being transferred to the privately run hospital in July 2021, the jury was told. The move meant the Bridges family faced an estimated six-hour round trip to see her.

The jury foreman, who was in tears during the inquest conclusion, said Dorset Healthcare had not recognised Ms Bridges' "exceptional circumstances."

He said the trust had admitted shortcomings in managing out-of-area patients, which may have resulted in "missed opportunities to offer Lauren a bed."

The foreman added that she would probably have benefitted from a move to Bournemouth where places were available in the week before her transfer.

The inquest had previously heard that Ms Bridges had been treated at a series of different units since 2018.

Her mother, Ms Lindsey Bridges, said the move to Stockport left her daughter "distressed and traumatised" and her mental health "deteriorated rapidly". She added: "It broke her and our family."

Ms Bridges described the Cheadle Royal as "noisy and disruptive" and "not the therapeutic environment" Lauren needed.

She said the family had "significant concerns" about standards of care, especially about the agency staff working at night. She claimed that they showed "a lack of compassion" and were "consistently poor."

The court heard Lauren's condition initially improved and in September 2021 the family was told she could be transferred to another unit. But five months later she had not been moved and was becoming "increasingly distressed by the delay".

In the days before her death, the court heard Lauren made a number of distressed phone calls to her mother. Ms Bridges said she was "screaming hysterically, begging me to get her out."

Her daughter was found unresponsive in a bathroom on 24 February 2022 and died two days later in hospital.

The inquest heard despite being a "straight A student", Lauren had struggled socially at school and was later assessed as being autistic.

Her younger brother Alfie died of a rare genetic illness and this had a "profound impact" on her.

She first received mental health support at the age of 15 and voluntarily became an inpatient at 17.

In November 2021, a Dorset occupational therapist raised concerns with her superiors that Ms Bridges was deteriorating and might be "trapped in a cycle without a move.”

Outside the court, Lindsey Bridges said her "beautiful, kind" daughter had been "horribly failed" by the mental health system.

She said: "Sending mental health patients hundreds of miles from home to receive treatment does not work. Lauren didn't want to die. She was desperate to escape a hospital that was making her mental health worse. Our concerns and Lauren's requests to come home were ignored."

In a statement, Dorset Healthcare said: "We fully accept that the systems we had in place to bring people back to Dorset and closer to home were not what they should have been at the time of Lauren's death.

"We profoundly regret that we could not respond to Lauren's need to be nearer to her home and her family. Our priority is to address the issues related to Lauren's tragic and untimely death."