The inquest into the death of a “kind, fun-loving, selfless” young nurse revealed she had been suffering with anxiety during the first lockdown, fearing she would contract coronavirus and pass it onto her vulnerable patients.
Katie Reynolds, who worked in the haematology department at Derriford Hospital, died at the age of just 26, Plymouth Coroner’s Court heard.
Senior coroner Ian Arrow noted that concerns had grown for the welfare of Katie, a registered nurse who was born in Oxford, after she had not been seen or heard of by neighbours, family and friends for three days. As a result police were called to her flat in Bradley Road, Mannamead on April 24 last year. Unable to get a reply at her door they broke it down and discovered her body inside her bedroom.
A post mortem confirmed that she had died as a result of ligature compression of the neck. A further toxicological examination found no trace of any alcohol or substance in her blood.
The inquest heard a statement from Katie’s GP which noted that on March 19 she called the advance nurse practitioner, suffering from anxiety and was waiting for CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] but due to the Covid-restrictions they had been suspended and Katie was feeling “completely overwhelmed”. The advance nurse practitioner noted that Katie had been “crying constantly and does not feel she would be any use at work given the current situation.”
The reported noted that while she had friends’ supporting her, she lived alone.
The inquest heard that Katie called her GP on March 23 for a long conversation. Her medical notes reported that Katie had “anxiety around Covid and giving it to patients”. An e-consult on April 1 was answered by the surgery’s locum doctor. It noted that her anxiety remained “bad”, she had not been sleeping well and was very uptight at the thought of returning to work.
On April 7 she requested a further week off work during an e-consult, explaining that she was “daunted and frightened”. On April 15 she had another e-consult explaining that she felt more anxious each week she was preparing to go back to work, adding that she was “so worried about coronavirus and working”.
On April 17 the surgery received another e-consult where Katie explained she was suffering a chesty cough and her sputum was green. She wrote she was “terrified about coronavirus” and was “not coping very well”. However she hoped to restart her CBT in the next week but she remained “very fearful and scared that I feel run down and have the symptoms and scared that I’m going to poss it on.”
The doctor who received the e-consult tried to ring her that morning but could not get through to Katie and instead left a message saying it was best to err on the side of caution as to whether she had coronavirus or not. The doctor assured her that her past medical history did not put her in any vulnerable category and he did not expect her to develop a serious illness. He urged her to call the surgery if she became increasingly short of breath. He also told Katie he had texted her advice about getting support for her anxiety “in these challenging times”. He added that there was “a lot available” and ended his message encouraging her to “keep well”.
The inquest heard that on April 24, when police found her body, they also found a note which had been intended to be read following her death.
Jo Thompson, community services manager at Livewell SouthWest gave evidence via a video link. She explained that a root cause analysis had been carried out, reviewing the care given to Katie in the weeks and months leading up to her death.
She noted that on March 17, 2020 Katie had been informed that face-to-face CBT meetings would be suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic and it was recorded that she had been responding well to the therapy before this date.
On March 23 Katie made contact with Livewell’s primary care mental health team saying she felt overwhelmed by anxiety about coronavirus and was worried about passing the virus onto others.
On April 16 she revealed during a telephone call that she was having some thoughts that she would be “better off dead” and that these thoughts were “scaring her” as she did not want to die. She denied making any plans or attempts to take her own life.
Ms Thompson said the review found that the lack of in-person meetings added to Katie’s sense of isolation “and that there was a possibility that Katie may have responded better to seeing a mental health professional face-to-face.”
Ms Thompson said that as a result of the review there were now arrangements where Livewell had reconfigured one of its buildings to ensure it was Covid-secure where “we are able to offer face-to-face contact with people who wish to do so.”
As a result of the evidence presented to him Mr Arrow said that on the balance of probabilities that Katie “who was an intelligent young lady made arrangements to end her own life”.
Mr Arrow then extended his condolences to Katie’s family, adding that he was so very sorry to have heard of Katie’s death, before closing the inquest.
At the time of her passing Lenny Byrne, chief nurse and director of integrated clinical professions at Derriford Hospital spoke on behalf of Katie’s colleagues.
He said: “Nurse Katie Reynolds was a very special part of the team on Bracken Ward. Her passing was unrelated to Covid-19.
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“Katie, who was 26, had been working with us for five years since graduation and was a truly loved part of her ward team and the wider haematology unit.
“Katie has been described by her colleagues as ‘warm-hearted and bubbly’, ‘often singing with an infectious laugh’, ‘a rainbow in the clouds who brightened up your day’, ‘loyal’, ‘caring’, ‘loved by all’ and ‘an excellent nurse’.
“Her loss is keenly felt by her family and her work family, who were also her friends, and our thoughts are with them all at this very sad time.”
Katie’s family wrote their own tribute to her last year, which was posted on the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust’s website.
Her mother, Tracey, who works at Oxford Health, wrote: “Katie was a daughter, sister, granddaughter, cousin, niece, friend and colleague. Katie will be greatly missed by everyone that knew her. Katie worked at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth. Everyone knew Katie as the kind, fun-loving, selfless friend and nurse that she was. But many weren’t aware of the struggles that she was going through. Katie sadly lost her battle with these struggles at the end of April.”
The family had decided to raise money for the Laura Hyde Foundation, which raises awareness of the mental health challenges facing those who work in the emergency and medical services. The Foundation’s objective is to is to ensure that all medical and emergency services personnel have access to the best mental health support network available. The family chose the foundation as it “really resonated with us”.
The foundation was set up in late 2017 in response to the tragic passing of Laura Hyde, a young naval nurse who suffered with mental health issues, yet dedicated her life to helping others. Laura, who was 27 when she died, had worked in the emergency department at Derriford Hospital in her role.
Tracey wrote on the Oxford Health site that she wanted to encourage others to talk about their struggles.
Where to get support for mental health
There are dozens of places to get online help, including web-chats, text help, phone-calls and even apps with games to help you manage your feelings.
If you are needing help or just want to know what is available to you, we have compiled a full list of a number of services here.
Below are just some of the helplines and websites that can help you.
Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at email@example.com.
Pete’s Dragons (01395 277780) provides specialist support and advice for those affected by suicide in any way via telephone or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.
PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation which speaks openly about suicide and supports teenagers and young adults who have may suicidal thoughts. You can also get in contact with Papyrus via text on 07786 209697 or email via email@example.com.
The opening hours are as follows; 9am – 10pm weekdays, 2pm – 10pm weekends, 2pm – 10pm bank holidays.
Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression. It doesn’t have a helpline, but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information. http://www.depressionalliance.org/
Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying. http://studentsagainstdepression.org/
The Sanctuary (0300 003 7029) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, for people who are struggling to cope – experiencing depression, anxiety, panic attacks or in crisis.
Andy’s Man Club now has four groups across Devon (Plymouth, Newton Abbot, Torbay, Exeter). It provides men with a safe, non-judgemental, confidential place to chat and get stuff off your chest. To gain access during lockdown, any man over 18 can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Livewell Southwest provides integrated health and social care services for people across Plymouth and other parts of the region. For anxiety and depression enquiries please email email@example.com.
SHOUT (85258) is a 24/7 UK crisis text service available for times when people feel they need immediate support.
By texting ‘SHOUT’ to ‘85258’ a Texter will be put in touch with a trained Crisis Volunteer (CV) who will chat to them using trained techniques via text. To get help or find out more about how Shout works, visit the Get Help page.
“I do feel it sounds so lame: ‘talk to someone’. Yet it is so important. Many people are so good at putting up a front, like Katie was, laughing and singing at the ward, living independently, even though she had struggled with social anxiety and feeling she didn’t belong.”
Tracey wrote that she hoped the Foundation would help others and was keen to promote it so that “positive things will come out of this terrible time”.
If you would like to donate to The Reynolds Family campaign in Katie’s memory, you can contribute here.