Young St Leonards man ‘was failed’ before he took his own life

A specialist mental health trust has settled a civil complaint case with the family of a young St Leonards man who took his own life an hour and a half after being discharged from its care.

Reece Lapina-Amarelle SUS-210824-143451001
Reece Lapina-Amarelle SUS-210824-143451001

Reece Lapina-Amarelle, of Celandine Drive, St Leonards, died aged 20 at Beachy Head on June 25, 2018, after long-term treatment for emotionally unstable personality disorder that saw him admitted to hospital 26 times in just two years

An inquest into his death, held in April 2019, heard Reece had been discharged from a mental health ward at Eastbourne District General Hospital an hour and a half before his death.

After the inquest, Reece’s family said they felt failings were not being taken seriously enough by the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, the specialist mental health trust.

Reece Lapina-Amarelle's brother Kyle died in 2017 SUS-210824-143431001

As a result, they pursued a civil case for damages arising out of Reece’s death. It was argued that by failing to keep him safe the trust had breached Reece’s ‘right to life’ under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act.

The claim was settled in June 2021, according to Ben Davey, a senior chartered legal executive of Dean Wilson Solicitors LLP, who acted on behalf of the family throughout the case.

Mr Davey said: “This case just shows the catastrophic consequences of getting big decisions wrong.

“As part of the claim we obtained evidence from an independent psychiatry expert who said that it was negligent to discharge Reece when the trust did.

“This was a young man in serious need of support and unfortunately the system has failed him. We never received a satisfactory answer to explain why Reece was allowed to leave a secure psychiatric unit by himself whilst continuing to voice suicidal ideas.”

Reece’s inquest heard he had been sectioned several times for his own safety in the two years before his death, including after the death of his brother Kyle in 2017, but had not responded well to treatment or engaged with in-patient therapy.

On being discharged on June 25, he told nurses he intended to end his life but was allowed to leave unaccompanied and without his family being informed by the hospital as requested, the court heard.

Senior coroner Alan Craze questioned mental health professionals on why Reece had been discharged by nurses, who made a precautionary call to the chaplain at Beachy Head, the inquest heard.

During the inquest, Mr Craze read in full a statement from Reece’s parents, who attended the hearing, that said the hospital had ‘opened the door, knowing what his intentions were and let him go without question’.

Christina Lapina-Amarelle said: “Anyone who knew Reece prior to his mental health deterioration would describe him as a beautiful person both inside and out who would always smile and want to make people laugh. Unfortunately, his mental health and suicidal thoughts began in early 2016 and not only got worse as time went on, he became a different person.

“Without continuity in his care and support from the Trust in learning how to deal with his mental health issues, his illness then spiralled and was made worse by his brother’s death in October 2017.

“The week leading up to his discharge anyone who spoke to Reece or met him would say it was the wrong decision and he was not ready or in a fit state of mind to be discharged. We telephoned the ward nurse on Friday (June 22) after Reece told us of a meeting the Ward held with him to discuss discharge plans for the Monday 25th June, and voiced our concerns which were unanswered.

“What hurts us the most is we were denied any opportunity to speak on his behalf when the Trust were considering his discharge and again the opportunity to collect him when they had released him on the 25th June 2018, which was a specific request I made in my call to them on the Friday (June 22). This was in contradiction of the admission care plan set by the ward doctors in May 2018 which said that they wanted the family more involved. We feel very let down by the Trust.

“We are speaking out about Reece’s situation as there is not enough being done for young adults who are suffering with their mental health. Our local NHS Trust seems to rely heavily on community services, which are very limited. This, in our opinion, needs to change as a person’s mental health needs can vary depending on the person and severity of their illness, so more services whilst admitted to a hospital environment should be considered which would prepare those individuals for discharge which they could then continually manage within the community.“

The Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said the civil claim was settled ‘without any admission of liability’.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the trust said: “We would like to offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr Lapina-Amarelle.

“Our clinical staff were trying to work with Mr Lapina-Amarelle, whose needs were both complex and longstanding, to provide the most effective care, treatment and support that was appropriate for him.

“We fully accept his family should have been more involved and informed about his care. We apologise unreservedly for this.”

Reece’s inquest heard that the youngster, although not addicted to drugs, had recreationally taken cocaine and had been discharged from Woodlands care facility in Hastings due to issues with him bringing drugs onto the ward.

Consultant psychiatrist at Bodiam Ward in Eastbourne Dr Connie Meijer said Reece had not been safe in hospital and had put other patients at risk.

On being discharged from hospital, medical professionals said Reece would frequently say he intended to hurt himself or die and would be intercepted or protected by family or friends and emergency services.

At the inquest in 2019, fellow consultant psychiatrist Dr Daniel Chetcuti explained that due to the complexities of Reece’s condition, discharge from hospital was perceived as rejection and would itself provoke that reaction. On the other hand, hospital staff explained long stays to hospital were typically considered detrimental for patients with emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD) and having ‘exhausted’ all in-patient treatment options, community care was considered better for his ‘chronic’ condition.

Representatives for Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust apologised for not involving Reece’s family in the decision to discharge him from hospital.

In an apology letter to the family, Samantha Allen, chief executive of the trust, said: “As Chief Executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust I want to say how very sorry I am for the loss of your son, Reece. I am sorry Reece was not referred to the Trust Wide Risk Panel to support the decision making on his discharge and treatment plan.

“I am also sorry that you were not at the discharge meeting on June 22, 2018, and that there was a delay in returning your call between June 22 and June 25, 2018.”