Like many local people I’ve been following the news of the inquest into Michelle Connor’s death in 2008 as a patient of the old Department of Psychiatry in Southampton. And I’ve been asking myself how could heroin and alcohol be smuggled into a psychiatric hospital, and how could Michelle have been deemed in “no immediate risk” a few hours before she died from an overdose?
Over more than 30 years the Department of Psychiatry never shook off its grim reputation as an unsafe service. It has since been replaced by Antelope House – modern, purpose-built and long overdue. But the funding crisis is biting, and acute bedspaces throughout the Trust are now under threat, even in the new units. Mind has long campaigned for community alternatives to hospital, and we’ve welcomed the investment into Home Treatment and Assertive Outreach services over the last 10 years. I don’t know whether Michelle’s inquest jury will hear evidence about the availability of these sorts of acute community-based services once she was discharged. But, 3 years on from Michelle’s death, we’re bound to ask whether bedspace pressures and cutbacks to services in 2011 will make another tragedy more likely.