NHS trust spends £90,000 on legal fees surrounding death of 19-year-old anorexic student
PUBLISHED: 16:27 02 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:58 02 July 2019
More than £90,000 has been spent on legal costs by a healthcare trust following the death of a 19-year-old anorexia student in Norwich.
Averil Hart, originally from Sudbury, Suffolk, was studying at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in 2012 when she died.
At the time she was cared for by a variety of organisations including Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation Trust (CPFT), which provided treatment in the community.
But in the last seven years, while Averil's father Nic Hart has been campaigning for answers and improvement in treatment, CPFT has racked up £91,294.29 in legal fees surrounding her death.
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The figure was revealed in a freedom of information request made by Mr Hart, who said the figure was bound to rise as the inquest into his daughter's death has still not been held.
"I've got 6,500 pages of submissions to the coroner," he said. "Their lawyers will then have to go through all of that, so I would not be surprised if it rises."
A spokesman for CPFT said: "On occasions it is necessary for health organisations to seek legal representation and advice as part of processes to ensure compliance around legal and regulatory duties."
Mr Hart, who now lives in Cambridge, said: "This all came about because we were challenging the care Averil got in the community. In that period that CPFT were looking after her, she had six sessions of CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy].
MORE: Anorexic UEA student's death linked with four other cases
"If you estimate that costs £100 to £150 per session, the cost of care involved was less than £1,000. They've spent nearly 100 times more after Averil died than during her time at university."
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Mr Hart said CPFT had hired a top London barrister to defend them during the inquest, which is expected to start later this year and which Cambridgeshire senior coroner David Heming said was "inextricably linked" to four other inquests involving CPFT.
But he questioned why that was necessary when a Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) report identified failings in her care at all levels, and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) found last month that little has changed in how patients are treated.
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In the PACAC report it was concluded that NHS organisations needed to stop prioritising their own reputations over learning from patient deaths.
"They still try to defend the indefensible," Mr Hart said. "In the meantime they've shut the Phoenix Centre in Cambridge for six months down to a lack of resources."
The centre, an eating disorder ward for young people across the east which is run by CPFT, shut in May 2018 due to a lack of staff, and began accepting patients again in October.
But Mr Hart said he was not surprised by the numbers, as he said the first email he received from another part of the health service, after Averil's death, was from a legal department.
"Why was I dealing with legal affairs when I wanted to talk to the clinicians? Even now we've not been able to talk to the clinicians who treated Averil," he said.
MORE: 'Patients end up suffering' - Anorexia service still failing patients, says father of teen who died in 2012
While Mr Hart has kept up his fight, he said it made the process of getting answers from the NHS "extremely daunting" for other families who may have been failed.
And he called for there to be a limit on the amount NHS trusts could spend on legal representation in inquests, when often families could not even be granted legal aid.
He said: "It's a David and Goliath situation. They have huge resources. The only good thing is we know Averil's case better than any of them."
A spokesperson for CPFT said: "The death of Averil Hart in 2012 was a tragedy and we would again like to extend our apologies to her family and friends. Anorexia is a devastating condition for both the patient and their loved ones and our staff remain committed to helping each and every person we see on the path to recovery."