Anorexic woman found starved to death after doctors left her without care in lockdown

Louise Cooper, 44, was found dead as a result of “severe malnutrition” in the bedroom of her home in Blackpool, Lancashire, by a friend after an “administrative issue” at her GP surgery which meant she wasn’t monitored over lockdown

Louise Cooper, 44, was found dead as a result of severe malnutrition
Louise Cooper, 44, was found dead as a result of severe malnutrition

An anorexic woman was found dead at home after doctors failed to monitor her condition during lockdown, an inquest heard.

Louise Cooper, 44, who had suffered from an eating disorder “for many years”, died from severe malnutrition after and had an ‘extremely low’ body mass index (BMI) of just 12.5, the hearing was told.

After being hospitalised with the condition, Louise was referred to a clinical psychologist and then later to her GP surgery in Blackpool, who were supposed to monitor over lockdown – but an “administrative issue” meant she never received the support she needed.

A friend who had called round to deliver Louise’s shopping, discovered her body in the bedroom when he was unable to get a reply at the door and forced entry in May 2020.

Senior Coroner Alan Wilson has sent a prevention of future deaths report to the Department of Health & Social Care, as well as Gillian Keegan MP, after hearing Ms Cooper was not monitored by health professionals.

He said: “Louise knew that the clinical psychologist with whom she had worked for a number of years was due to go on maternity leave.

“She did not wish to work with any other members of the Eating Disorder Service team.

“When discharged her Body Mass Index is estimated to have been at a significantly low level of 12.5.

“She was discharged on the understanding that she would receive ongoing monitoring from her General Practitioner.

“The GP surgery was notified about the discharge but due to an administrative issue, the need for Louise to be monitored was not appreciated.

“She did not receive the necessary monitoring.

“During the weeks preceding Louise’s death, her health went into further decline. This was in part contributed to by the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 which left her more isolated.

“Having last exchanged text messages with Louise on 15 May 2020, a friend attended her home address at approximately 12.30pm on May 16, 2020, to deliver some shopping as previously arranged.

“Unable to obtain a reply he forced entry and he found Louise to be deceased on her bed in the rear bedroom.”

Recording a narrative conclusion the coroner said: “Having been discharged from an eating disorder service on January 2, 2020, Louise Cooper’s condition had not been monitored by medical professionals by the time she died on May 16, 2020, as a result of complications of her previously diagnosed anorexia nervosa.”

In his report to Gillian Keegan MP, a minister with the Department of Health and Social Care, Mr Wilson noted that if Louise had been properly monitored there was “a good chance” she may not have died when she did.

He said: “It is reported that she stated to friends that the nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic had removed all of the mechanisms that she had for coping with her condition.

“A Trust review would later find that as Louise was self-isolating due to Covid, this may have impacted upon her mental and physical wellbeing due to reduced social contacts.

“Louise did not receive the monitoring she was expected to receive during 2020.

“The court found that had she received that monitoring as envisaged, there was a good chance she would not have died when she did but was unable to say that she would have survived.

“There will be many patients such as Louise who appear to make minimal if any improvement in a hospital setting but who may benefit – according to the clinicians treating them – from sustained supported eating.

“If that option is not available, these patients may be left with no realistic chance of any meaningful improvement.”

Ms Cooper, who had been admitted to hospital on a number of occasions and was last discharged in July 2019 after which time she received care from an eating disorder service until January 2020.

She was discharged on the understanding she would be monitored by her GP in Blackpool but while they were notified of her needs, an administration issue meant her care needs were not properly processed.

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The inquest heard how her body mass index (BMI) was shockingly low at 12.5 as anything below 15 is considered extreme anorexia and adults are considered underweight if they are below 18.5.

Around 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder, according to Beat, the national charity which offers a support helpline and aims to raise awareness and campaign for better services.

Tom Quinn, Director of External Affairs at Beat, said: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on people with eating disorders with increased isolation leading to more people developing eating disorders, and for many who were already struggling Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown has led to their illness becoming even more severe.

“This tragic case highlights the urgent need to ensure there is enough support in the community for people with eating disorders, and that GP surgeries are effective in carrying out medical monitoring of individuals at risk.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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