Northampton psychiatric hospital care was ‘medieval’ says sister of woman who died from undiagnosed broken back

The family of Claire Masters have spoken out for the first time since the conclusion of her inquest.
The family of Claire Masters have spoken out for the first time since the conclusion of her inquest.

The family of a woman whose broken back went unnoticed at Berrywood Hospital in Northampton say the treatment she received was “medieval.”

A two-week inquest into Claire Masters’ death concluded that Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust failed in its duty of care to the 57-year-old, who had a history of paranoid schizophrenia.

The jury heard how Miss Masters could have gone 17 days with a fractured spine while staying in the Harbour Ward of Berrywood in September 2014. It is likely she had injured herself through an act of self harm.

But because communication between the Harbour Ward and Northampton General Hospital was “inadequate, lacking consistency and specific related information regarding her back pain,” the jury found, doctors did not discover the fractures until it was too late.

The lengthy inquest also raised numerous criticisms of Miss Masters’ care at Berrywood, run by the Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

The jury heard how nurses may not have believed Miss Masters when she complained of severe back pain and some had “negative attitudes” towards her.

She was not allowed a radio in her room, despite the fact music was known to calm her, and on one occasion Miss Masters was found on the floor of a ward toilet in pain.

Miss Masters’ sister Michele Power said following the inquest: “The care was absolutely dreadful, it was abysmal.

“I think Victorian mental health care would have been far more superior.

“There were so many incidents where she was so cruelly treated.”

Mrs Power, who lives in Newbury, said the family were initially pleased when Miss Masters was admitted to the Harbour Ward in August 2014 after being sectioned, because it was a dedicated psychiatric unit.

“We had no reason to believe she would have any problems,” she said.

“I remember thinking thank God, she is in the best possible place.”

But immediately the family started noticing problems.

Miss Masters, who was a talented flute player in her youth, danced ballet, spoke two languages and went to university to study speech therapy, enjoyed listening to classical music but she was not allowed a radio in her room because the plug and cord could have been used to tie a ligature.

On one occasion a staff nurse called her to complain of Miss Masters’ “unacceptable behaviour.” On another a key worker called the police when she was “kicked” by Miss Masters.

Miss Masters had suffered with schizophrenia for the best part of three decades and Mrs Power feels staff never fully understood her sister’s complex condition.

“Claire didn’t want to just sit around and watch television in the common room, but that’s all they let her do.

“They just didn’t explore any options to make her life better.”

Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, says it has made a number of improvements in light of Claire Masters’ death.

These actions include offering training for all ward based staff in physical health care skills, and appointing physical healthcare nurses in its inpatient wards to make sure patient’s physical ailments are better spotted.

It says it has also tightened up its “hand over” processes between Berrywood and other hospitals.

A spokeswoman for the trust said: “During the inquest the Coroner was reassured by the measures the trust has taken to remedy all shortcomings identified during the investigation.

“Throughout the investigation we have worked closely with Ms Masters’ family to develop the incident report and subsequent action plan and will continue to do so.

“We have expressed our sincere apologies to the family throughout our meetings with them since 2014 and we would like to take this opportunity to do so again publicly.”