Woman's body was found in pond after she absconded from Shrewsbury mental health unit

A family’s concerns about how a woman was treated at a mental health centre are being explored at an inquest into her death this week.

Susan Robdale
Susan Robdale

Professionals who cared for Sue Robdale told a jury yesterday at the first day of an inquest that they did not consult patients when they had to move them at short notice from one ward to another at the Redwoods Centre in Shrewsbury.

The family of Miss Robdale, aged 60, an occupational therapist of Kenwood Road in Copthorne, Shrewsbury, said the consequences for her were devastating because being moved from the adult Birch ward to the Holly ward for the over-65s played on her darkest fears. She absconded from the centre and, probably by stepping on to a flower pot to get over a fence. Her body was found three quarters of a mile away in a pond by a couple out walking on October 10, 2021.

“She had an abiding fear of dying alone in a dementia ward,” said Miss Robdale’s partner Richard Smith. He had met his friend at the University of Cambridge in 1983 and their friendship had endured throughout her life, even when she had married, had two children, and then divorced. They got together in 2006, following the divorce, the inquest at the old Crown Court in Shrewsbury heard on Monday.

Mr Smith said his partner had a troubled childhood, but they had a comfortable life. Her mental health problems started after a difficult operation and treatment which “went back to the abuse” she had suffered. Her behaviour became more difficult.

Coroner John Ellery was told that she tried to kill herself in June 2021 and her anxieties became “worse and worse”, and she lost her joy of living.

After having surgery following her self-harming incident she was admitted for the first time to Redwoods. She was then moved to Oak Paddock, which is a house in the community which is supported by the mental health service.

But she left Oak Paddock because she was concerned she wasn’t getting the right treatment and went to a Premier Inn. She had wanted Electro Convulsive Therapy because a friend had successful treatment.

Miss Robdale was later restrained in Shrewsbury’s Darwin Shopping Centre, threatening to harm herself.

At that point she was readmitted to Redwoods on October 1. On October 8, Miss Robdale was told she was being moved to Holly ward, at the Bicton Heath complex. She had been settling in and started making friends.

But the inquest was told that the mental health system was under pressure at the time and on October 8, a committee of professionals was told by bed managers to move someone into Holly ward. They had an urgent need to find a bed for an emergency child case and Miss Robdale was identified as the best candidate.

The jury heard that the committee met to make its decision at 2pm but Miss Robdale wasn’t told until 4.30pm and could have no say in the decision.

Rebecca Williams, a ward sister on the 16-bed Birch ward, said: “We had to move somebody, and that patient would have to move. Patients are told after a decision is made.”

And under cross examination from Mr Smith, she said she did not know about Miss Robdale’s fears.

Since Miss Robdale’s death, the Midlands Foundation Partnership Trust has made changes to the way it transfers patients from ward to ward and to increase observations of them. The height of a garden wall over which she is believed to have got out has also been increased.

The jury was also told that the Holly ward did not have CCTV.

Dr Rahul Chandravarkar, Miss Robdale’s consultant psychiatrist at Redwoods, said he had formed a plan with her and had been due to meet her on October 12 to discuss it. The unit has 48 beds for the mental health needs of the whole of Shropshire, he said. He told the inquest that they had “started to take a hit” after covid.

He had not been involved in the decision. “It would be good practice to discuss it with the consultant, but it was not policy,” he said.

“Normally she would have stayed in the ward for 28 days but unfortunately it did not pan out like that and I am sorry about that,” he said.

He added that there had been a ‘lot of learning’ but he did not know “when the policy is going to be updated.”

Dr Neil Jones, a consultant psychologist at Redwoods, said he had been involved in the decision to move Miss Robdale but said he “did not recall” the issue of her fears being raised at that meeting.

He was asked whether patients were ever consulted. He said “rarely”.

He added that there was “no standard process”, but added that it would “would be positive if there was a transition.”

The inquest continues.

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