Drowned author Stephen Foster failed by NHS trusts

Stephen Foster Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption Stephen Foster, known for books including It Cracks Like Broken Skin, died in 2011

A critically acclaimed author who died after being admitted to hospital with suicidal feelings was "failed" by the NHS, an ombudsman has found.

Stephen Foster, 48, of Norwich, drowned three days after he was discharged by Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and told to seek counselling.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman said he had been "let down".

The health trust claimed investment had since been made in psychiatric care.

'Dismissive and shambolic'

Both the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) were criticised in the report.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Stephen Foster's partner Trezza Azzopardi strongly criticised the standard of care he received

Mr Foster's partner, Booker-shortlisted novelist Trezza Azzopardi, said the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust's behaviour had been "arrogant, dismissive and shambolic".

"They have compounded my distress by their complete lack of respect for me or my partner," she said.

"They would have continued to ignore me if not for the fact that I contacted the Ombudsman Service."

Mr Foster went to the hospital with Ms Azzopardi in June 2011 "because he was feeling suicidal and admitted as an acute patient", said the ombudsman report, which does not identify the author.

"He was on the ward for more than 16 hours without adequate support," the report added.

He was eventually assessed by a doctor and then waited all night for the crisis team from the NSFT to see him. They attended at 09:00 the following morning.

Mr Foster was assessed by a mental health nurse who discharged him and recommended he attend his GP surgery and get counselling.

Image caption The NSFT provides services for mental health patients in Norfolk and Suffolk

He was found dead in Whitlingham Broad three days later.

The coroner at an inquest into his death recorded a narrative verdict, without attributing the cause to an individual.

Ombudsman Julie Mellor said: "It is unacceptable that a vulnerable man received such little support when he so desperately needed it.

"A bit more time, care and attention by the trusts may have resulted in a different outcome for him."

The Ombudsman Service recommended both trusts apologise to Mr Foster's partner and inform her of the lessons they learned from her complaint.

Debbie White, NSFT director of operations, said: "Since 2011, the NHS in Norfolk has made significant investments into improving acute psychiatric liaison services.

"We have met Ms Azzopardi to offer our sincere apologies and to underline our commitment to learn the lessons."

A spokeswoman from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said it was "regrettable" Mr Foster "had to wait overnight to be seen by the mental health team".

"A&E and the acute hospital is not the ideal environment for patients with mental health needs... like other acute hospitals, this trust does not offer specialist mental health services or employ psychiatrists."

Mr Foster's books include It Cracks Like Breaking Skin, Strides and She Stood There Laughing.

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