Mental health trust has 'made changes' after patient went onto murder his girlfriend in Middlesbrough

The Northern Echo: Michael Heighton Michael Heighton

MENTAL health bosses in the region say they have reviewed the way services are provided following a critical report into the care of a patient who murdered his girlfriend.

Bosses at the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said they had made changes to the way care is provided in response to recommendations made by an independent panel of experts.

The panel - which included a solicitor, a psychiatrist and a mental health nurse – made a series of recommendations to the trust after investigating the healthcare of treatment of Michael Heighton.

Heighton was jailed for a minimum of 12 years in October 2009 at Teesside CrownCourt after pleading guilty to the murder of his then girlfriend, Karen Leonard  in Middlesbrough.

Heighton, who had a long history of mental illness and violence towards women, battered his lover with an iron before strangling her with its flex and stabbing her with scissors in April 2009.

While the panel accepted that Heighton was not ill at the time of the murder they believed there should have been “far greater awareness” by his care team, because of his previous history, of how a new and close relationship might affect him.

The panel also concluded that the quality of care received by Heighton had been adversely affected by his care team’s heavy case-load.

They found the care coordinator for Heighton had a personal case load of around 80 clients and was responsible for supervising 20 staff as well as other management duties.

The panel found “evidence of a complete lack of coordination in the care team and absence of a team based approach.”

The panel also found a “lack of continuity” in care given to Heighton, with 15 different consultants handling his case between 1985 and 2009.

Some consultants told the panel they had not read Heighton’s notes and there had not been a comprehensive review of his history since 1996.

The panel also found there had been “no comprehensive approach to risk formulation and risk management planning” in Heighton’s case.

Panel members made a series of recommendations calling for changes in the way care is provided by the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys Trust.

Chris Stanbury, director of nursing and governance at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We carried out our own internal investigation in 2009 and as a result made a number of changes to the way we work.

“We recognise that there are always things we can do better and we welcome this report and its recommendations, which we will use to continue to improve our services.”

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