Northern Ireland

Belfast Health Trust pays out £5.5K to agoraphobic woman

Equality Commission
Image caption The woman took the case with the assistance of the Equality Commission

Belfast Health Trust has paid £5,500 to an agoraphobic woman with an anxiety disorder who was discharged as a patient after missing two appointments.

It was found to have failed to provide her with adequate care and management in accessing mental health treatment.

The trust also apologised to the woman for the injury to her feelings, upset and distress she suffered as a result.

The woman took a case against the trust with the aid of the Equality Commission.

Agoraphobics may fear being left alone, in a situation where they feel trapped, or travelling away from a "safe" place.

Policy 'strictly enforced'

The trust acknowledged that an error was made, that it failed to make reasonable adjustments in the services it was providing to her and that this was a breach of its obligations under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.

It was agreed that there was no intention on the part of the trust to discriminate against her.

At the time, the woman was 19 and had been diagnosed with a chronic social anxiety disorder and depression several years previously.

Her agoraphobia prevented her from leaving her house and she had recently been formally diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.

Image caption Dr Michael Wardlow said the trust has agreed that it "failed in its reasonable adjustment duty"

The woman had, up to January 2017, been under the care of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), but was then to be placed under care of the Adult Mental Health Service (AMHS) team for treatment for her anxiety disorder, including her agoraphobia.

She also required adult autism services and the gateway to this service was through the AMHS team.

The AMHS "do not attend" protocol for outpatient appointments stated that, should a patient miss two consecutive appointments, they would be discharged from the service.

The policy was strictly enforced.

However, the AMHS policy has an addendum stating that, if a patient does not attend, there should be a review of risk factors with their GP and, if it is decided to discharge the patient, it must be fully documented and the patient and GP informed in writing.

The addendum was not followed in the woman's case.

'Seriously deteriorated'

The woman experienced difficulty from December 2016 onwards when she was unable to attend two appointments at the AMHS office due to her disability.

She was discharged in February 2017 without assessment.

It was only when her mother and her GP intervened on her behalf that she was reinstated.

By that time, her condition had seriously deteriorated and she was not able to access the service until March 2017.

"The protocol to be followed should have looked at the reasons for this woman's failure to attend the two appointments before discharging her," the Equality Commission's Dr Michael Wardlow said.

"Ensuring that incidents like this cannot happen again requires the sensible, responsive and considered application of effective policies and processes.

"Trusts need to provide early planning and preparation for adolescents during their transition to adult health, social care and well-being services."

"The trust, in making this settlement, made commitments to undertake a range of measures, which will, we hope, ensure that anyone with specific care needs can experience practical, flexible support when making the transition from one service to another."