THE family of a young girl who died while an inpatient in a crisis-hit mental health hospital for children say she had been "failed by the system her whole life".

Christie Brayley, 17, of Newton Aycliffe, died four days after being found unconscious in the bath in the West Lane Hospital in Middlesbrough on June 23.

It is believed she took her own life, although an inquest will be held to examine the circumstances.

Her family claim the incident happened while staff were all in a handover meeting and allegedly not supervising the patients.

Now her family are speaking out about the "catalogue of failures" by mental health services in the lead-up to their daughter’s death.

West Lane has been closed to new admissions, and had its safety rating suspended by the Care Quality Commission, (CQC) in the wake of the tragedy and following concerns raised by the CQC after an inspection around the time of Christie’s death.

Christie, a former pupil at Woodham Academy in Newton Aycliffe, was a talented singer and had aspirations to sing or be a mental health nurse to give others the care she felt she had not received.

The Northern Echo:

She had suffered with mental health issues since the age of five, when her parents first took her to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

She was first admitted to hospital with a suspected eating disorder two years ago and since then she has been discharged again and again, despite numerous self-harm and suicide attempts. More recently she was hearing voices and suffering from psychosis, and believed people were trying to kill her.

Just two weeks before her death she escaped the ward, and attempted to take her own life, but was stopped just in time by Cleveland Police, who returned her to the ward.

Her family say during the two years she has been in and out of West Lane there were numerous issues with her care and they have made dozens of complaints to the CQC.

These have included allegations that:

  • Christie was restrained and had all her clothes cut off, while a male nurse was present, to search for a tiny sequin which staff thought she was self-harming with;
  • She escaped from the ward after two of the three secure doors were left unlocked;
  • She self-harmed on the ward and staff put a bandage on it. Despite Christie trying to tell them it was very sore they ignored her and she was later rushed into hospital with sepsis after the wound became severely infected;
  • Young patients, including Christie, were left banging their own heads without being stopped by staff, for hours at a time;
  • Christie was left to wet herself after staff told her they were too busy to unlock the door to her toilet;
  • She was restrained roughly by a male member of staff, which injured her hip;
  • She was repeatedly discharged despite the suicide risk, with the family being told it was a ‘risk that would have to be taken’ if she was going to learn to live independently.

Her father Michael Harnett told The Northern Echo: “We don’t want this to happen to any other children and that is why we are speaking out. The way Christie has been failed, we don’t want that to happen again.

“She has been failed her whole life by the system. We are really angry with the trust, and how they treated her.

“Christie had issues all her life. She was in CAMHS multiple times. She didn’t want to talk to anyone and was passed from one person to the next person for years. They said she was self-harming for attention and there was nothing the matter.”

He said even when Christie ended up on a road bridge in a suicide attempt while out of hospital, CAMHS said she didn’t need to be sectioned. The whole road was closed for several hours.

The Northern Echo:

She had been housed in an adult ward temporarily and then sent to live in hotels where she ended up in Accident and Emergency every night due to numerous self-harm episodes.

Christie started to improve while she was housed in the Ferndene Hospital in Newcastle.

Mr Harnett said: “While she was in there she had no access to anything that she could self-harm with. When she did try to bang her head staff would stay with her and talk to her and most times she stopped.”

But the improvement was short-lived as Christie was sent back to West Lane in a swap with another patient.

Christie talked about setting up a charity, Christie’s Promise, to help families of mental health patients.

“She said to us, you never had any help or support through this,” said Mr Harnett.

He said the family still plans to set up the charity to help others.

Elizabeth Moody, Director of Nursing and Governance & Deputy Chief Executive at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our thoughts are with Christie’s family and friends at this distressing time.

“It would be inappropriate for the Trust to comment on the care and treatment of any individual. However we always carry out a full review when someone under our care dies so there will be a full investigation, which will be carried out along with other agency partners.

“We have been talking to the family and if any family members would like to contact us we’d encourage them to do so.”