The friend of a woman who took a fatal overdose told an inquest that mental health professionals told her to give “tough love” as she was “putting it on” – but the Trust deny this.

Linda Banks, 48, from Ferryhill, died in hospital on April 10, 2022. In the months before her death, she had been a patient at multiple services run by Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV).

Now, Helen Cooke, who had been friends with Linda for 37 years, told the inquest that a mental health professional told her that Linda was “putting it on” when she voiced her concerns about her friend’s “deteriorating mental state”.

The Northern Echo: Linda Banks died in spring 2022

Counsel for TEWV claimed that this “simply did not happen”, suggesting that Helen was mistaken about making the call or what was said during it, as there is no record of the exchange in their systems.

Helen said she has felt guilty since Linda, her "best and closest friend" died after she she took the "tough love" approach. 

Linda, who was known for her commitment to raising money for charity and her “amazing love” for friends and family, had a long history of mental illness.

Helen said: “Linda had struggled with her mental health since school. She used to self-harm when she was a young person, and really struggled meeting people.”

Whilst Linda’s mental health was at rock bottom in March and April of 2022, Helen had been visiting her “every day”.

She became increasingly worried for her best friend when visiting in the week before her death.

Helen said: “She was really distressed; when [my mother and I came in] she was in her chair, with her iPad in her lap and was rocking back and forth saying the police were coming for her [over perceived financial issues].

“I couldn’t get any sense out of Linda, she kept saying that I was evil, that people were coming for her and that she had got everyone in trouble.”

An inquest was told how Helen says she rang a clinician on Linda’s team twice in the week before her fatal overdose.

She said: “I said Linda was really distressed and needed help, and was getting paranoid. I asked if they could lock her up for her own safety because she just didn’t seem herself and it didn’t feel safe to leave her.

“I was asked ‘do you not think that she is trying it on for attention?’

“I said no, because I didn’t think she was trying it on, and I was told to try tough love with her. Then, [the clinician] said don’t ring me any more because they couldn't really help.”

Emma Sutton KC, counsel for TEWV, said that Helen must be “mistaken” about the conversation she had, or that it was “made up after the event”, saying it “simply did not happen”.

A mental health practitioner said they had been “devastated” by Helen’s account, as it was “not a conversation I would have had, it is not the terminology I would have used”.

They added: “I wouldn’t have said something like that to anyone, it is not professional to say something like that to someone under your care.”

Before Linda’s death, TEWV commissioned a thematic review to find any issues with care after four crisis team patients unexpectedly died in a five-week period in 2021. 

This review identified several troubling themes in the care provided to some patients, including issues with referral, triage and escalation processes; problems with staffing levels and team culture; and a failure by staff to adhere to clinical policy/procedures.

Many of the issues noted in Linda’s care had previously been noted in this thematic review.

Coroner Janine Richards said: “Although actions were taken, given that seven out of the eight themes that I identified in Linda’s death sometime later, the family will want to know whether these interventions were effective.”

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Thomas Hurst, a general manager at TEWV, explained: “Some of that had been effective and improved, but not all of those issues had been eliminated at the time of Linda’s death.”

Coroner Janine Richards is assessing whether failings contributed to Linda’s death.

The inquest is expected to conclude tomorrow.