UEA Medical Centre failed anorexic student

A report has found that a UEA student, who died of anorexia nervosa, was failed by the UEA Medical Centre.

A Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) report concluded Averil Hart’s death would have been prevented if she had received appropriate treatment.

The 19 year old died after suffering from a heart attack, just a few months into her first term at UEA.

In December 2012, Averil collapsed in her halls but received no treatment from an eating disorder specialist for three days, after being admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

There was found to have been inadequate care for Averil during her transition from sixth form in Colchester to university in Norwich.

Doctors at the UEA Medical Centre did not follow requirements for monitoring Averil’s health that were outlined in a referral letter from her home GPs. She was not seen as often as she should have been and a few weeks before her death was told to return in a month, despite needing weekly monitoring.

Her family made a complaint to the Ombudsman.

The report stated GPs at the Medial Centre missed indicators of Averil’s deteriorating health.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said the creative writing student’s death was avoidable.

He said: “Averil’s tragic death would have been avoided if the NHS had cared for her appropriately.

“Sadly, these failures, and her family’s subsequent fight to get answers, are not unique.”

Other incidents of failure in the care of eating disorder sufferers were brought to light in the investigation into Averil’s death.

Mr Behrens said: “The families who brought their complaints to us have helped uncover serious issues that require urgent national attention – I hope that our recommendations will mean that no other family will go through the same ordeal.”

A spokesperson for the university said: “The loss of anyone’s son or daughter is a tragedy for all concerned and Averil’s family have our sincere condolences for their loss.

“We have been informed that legal action is pending subject to the outcome of an inquest and therefore have been advised that we cannot make any further comment at this time.”

India Edwards, Welfare, Community and Diversity officer for UEA’s students’ union, said the report raised questions about UEA’s role in supporting students with eating disorders.

“This was a shocking, tragic and avoidable death that paints a picture of a patchwork of support services failing to coordinate in their duty of care.

Whilst the Ombudsman report focuses on the NHS, it raises real concerns for us here about the role the University plays in supporting students, overseeing the UEA medical centre and ensuring that there is a joined up approach between University and NHS services on mental health.”

Dr Bill Kirkup, who led the report, said: “Nothing can make up for what happened to Averil and her family.

“But I hope this report will act as a wake-up call to the NHS and health leaders to make urgent improvements to services for eating disorders so that we can avoid similar tragedies in the future.”

Recommendations made in the report include training for all junior doctors about eating disorders, greater provision of eating disorder specialists, and a better coordination of care between NHS bodies.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We are introducing the first ever eating disorder waiting time standards and investing £150m creating 70 new community eating disorder services across the country, so that no-one will have to go through the same ordeal as Averil.”

Andrew Radford, Beat Chief Executive said the organisation await a response from the government and NHS England, “who must learn and take action following this tragedy”.

“We must see good, joined-up intensive home- and community-based treatment for people of all ages, and in all locations across the UK. This does require the NHS to reorganise but it will deliver improved outcomes for patients and considerable cost savings to the NHS.

We cannot continue to fail people with eating disorders.”

A spokesperson for the university added: “It is crucial that students with eating disorders have appropriate and carefully managed support delivered by professionals in that field; this support is provided by the NHS and is delivered through a range of services including specific Eating Disorder clinics.

“The University works closely with the NHS and supports affected students in seeking appropriate referrals for specialist support.

“In addition, Student Support Services facilitate peer support activities such as workshops to help students who are managing their eating disorder while studying.”


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January 2021
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