Suicidal Colchester mum overdosed after being allowed out of mental health unit alone

Valerie Dimoglou, 76, took her own life just hours after being granted day release without her family knowing, her daughter claims.

An Essex grandma who died while on day release from a mental health unit warned staff she would kill herself if they let her go, her daughter claims.

Valerie Dimoglou, 76, was a patient at the King’s Wood centre in Colchester, Essex, for exactly one year before she took her own life.

Her daughter, Sofia Dimoglou, claims Valerie had told staff for months that she needed to stay at the centre for her own safety and that she had been on suicide watch just two days before she died.

But on the morning of October 9, 2015, Valerie was reportedly told she could leave the centre for the day and she was allowed to go out, on her own, for 12 hours.

During that period, Sofia claims neither she or her sister were informed that their suicidal mum had been allowed to walk out alone. Later that evening, Valerie was found dead at her home.

Sofia is now one of around 20 Essex families campaigning for a statutory public inquiry into the county’s mental health services in search of “change” in the system.

Crashing her car in an attempt to end her life

“She was adventurous and unconventional in a great way, and was the heart of our family.”

Valerie, who lived in Colchester for around 50 years, had a long history of being treated under the mental health services.

She’d experienced serious episodes of depression and had struggled with her state of mind for some time, and Sofia claims her mum had been put on a variety of medication over the years as a result.

“Val was brilliant, generous, strong, funny and a hardworking mum and friend,” Sofia said. “She was adventurous and unconventional in a great way, and was the heart of our family.

“She’d had mental health problems for as long as I can remember, but undiagnosed. She was never really treated – prior to 2013 she had some cognitive behavioural therapy and that had really helped her.

“She had one episode where she had a breakdown and had various episodes of depression in her life including postnatal depression.

“She was treated quite casually and not really diagnosed, with no long-term treatment.

“What could have been treated with talking therapies if diagnosed became massively problematic as the wrong medication built up and had an adverse effect.”

In December 2013, Valerie’s depression culminated in an attempt to end her own life after deliberately crashing her car while driving on the A140, causing it to catch fire.

She was badly injured and burnt and was taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge for treatment, but was transferred to Colchester General Hospital on Christmas Eve.

“Her psychiatrist made no contact with her,” Sofia claimed. “I kept ringing and being told he wasn’t there.

“I said I was going to make a massive complaint and he finally spoke to me and went to see her.

“She was then offered a place at the King’s Wood Centre next to the hospital, but that was after I’d had to kick off.

’I will kill myself if I leave’’

Sofia (right) claims there was “pressure” on her mum to leave the mental health unit

At the time, the King’s Wood centre was under the control of the North Essex Partnership NHS Trust (NEP) which has since merged to form the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT).

In August 2014, Sofia claims her mum discharged herself from the centre after reporting she felt much better and no longer wanted to be there.

But, as Sofia explains, people with a risk of suicide can often have “triggers” that cause their mental state to deteriorate quickly.

In Valerie’s case, she received a letter from her car insurance company, a trigger that reminded her of the crash she had less than a year earlier.

She decided to once again refer herself as a voluntary patient in the October.

Sofia said: “She went back into the King’s Wood centre and that’s when it started going wrong. She didn’t feel safe on the outside anymore and she couldn’t cope.

“From the minute she went back in they were asking when she was leaving, they were treating her like a well person.

“In July 2015, I went to a review when mum was really bad – she was shaking and she couldn’t write anymore because she was on so much medication.

“I went to the meeting with about 15 members of staff, me and my mum. When we went in, they said she was well enough to leave, but she said ‘I will kill myself if I leave, I’m only safe in hospital’.

“The psychiatrist said she wouldn’t leave until he said she had to leave, but lots of the other staff were saying she couldn’t stay because she was taking a bed up for other people.”

Sofia claimed that as her mum was a voluntary patient, she would often bring items back to the centre after being out.

“She used to take tinned fish into her room which we thought was odd because that’s a real risk factor with the sharp edges,” Sofia added. “She had a knife in there as well.

“She was a voluntary patient so she would take stuff back in because she would eat things like cucumber and onion in her room.

“They eventually stopped her but she did have a knife and these sharp tins in her room. It was a definite risk.”

“Why would you let her out?”

Valerie with three of her four children, circa 1990

Sofia claims that Valerie had no access to her normal psychiatric care throughout September 2015 as staff were either “on holiday or sick”.

She also claimed that all of her mum’s psychology and talking therapy had been stopped in June the same year, something she “depended on”.

She explained that her mum’s regular treatment and routine had changed, and Valerie ended up on “suicide watch” with a member of staff checking in on her every 15 minutes.

A Serious Incident Report published by NEP following Valerie’s death confirmed that the 76-year-old had been “utilising her leave on a regular daily basis” and had even been granted leave the day she was taken off of 15-minute observations.

But on October 9, Sofia claims her mum was allowed to leave the centre on her own for 12 hours and that none of her family members were informed.

In relation to the leave granted on October 9, the NEP report states that staff had confirmed there was “nothing in her manner that day which gave them any cause for concern”. 

Sofia said: “She was told she could go at 9am and come back at 9pm.

“She’d never had that before. They didn’t tell us she wanted to go out for 12 hours.

“She’d been on suicide from October 6-7 and she’d been taken off it, then they let her out. She had been openly talking about suicide.”

Sofia claims her sister then got a call at 9.15pm from the King’s Wood Centre after they became concerned for Valerie’s welfare when she failed to return by 9pm.

“My sister went to the house and she found her,” Sofia said. “It was the one year anniversary of when she was admitted to the ward. She took an overdose.

“I’d talked to her at 8am and she said she was staying in the hospital all day long. My sister talked to her and she said the same thing.

“If we’d had a call saying she was going out for 12 hours we would have instantly said that’s not okay and we would have gone to the house.

“She was thinking about suicide. Why would you let her out? It’s so shocking it makes you gasp.”

A spokesperson for EPUT said: “We extend our deepest sympathies to Valerie’s loved ones.

“Since EPUT was established in 2017 our top priority has been to continuously improve patient safety.

“We now work alongside all our patients to create them a personalised care plan when they are admitted, which includes planning for the support they may need when they leave our care, and linking with partner agencies for those patients who may need a longer-term placement.

“We continue to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations into the care of patients under the former North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.”

“People think suicide is just a choice”

Since her mum’s death, Sofia has been fighting for change within the mental health services.

She soon met Melanie Leahy and some of the other families involved in the fight for a public inquiry and believes something needs to be done now.

Sofia said: “We didn’t realise how badly she’d been treated until we saw the medical notes which took a month to get to us.

“We were actively looking for somewhere she could have settled that was safe, we were in the process of it and she was due another review that month.

“We feel this Trust in particular needs a proper public inquiry because this is ongoing. I’ve read of so many people like my mum, voluntary patients walk out and someone finds them.

“An inquiry is the beginning, the change in the system has got to go through everything. A lot of people think suicide is just a choice and don’t understand how complex it really is.

“We need a reinstatement of really well run places of safety.”

Credit:Elliott Hawkins

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