Mum says teen daughter was 'let down' after dying on psychiatric ward in Taunton

Cariss Stone, 19, with her mum Gina Schiraldi.
Cariss Stone, 19, with her mum Gina Schiraldi. -Credit:© Courtesy Irwin Mitchell SWNS

A heartbroken mother has demanded that vital lessons be learned following the tragic death of her teenage daughter on a psychiatric ward, citing 'lapses' in the five-minute suicide watch. Gina Schiraldi, the bereaved mother, expressed her belief that her daughter Cariss Stone, 19, "would still be with us" if she had been allowed to return home, following an inquest's ruling of 'accidental' death.

In August 2019, Cariss was discovered unresponsive with a ligature around her neck. Despite recognition of her need for community-based care, she remained in an intensive psychiatric unit, an action influenced by NHS Somerset Trust's concerns over legal and reputational repercussions should a "serious untoward incident review" occur, as indicated by documents reviewed during the inquest.

The jury, after deliberating for a week at the inquest, reached the verdict that Cariss' passing was "accidental", noting it was exacerbated by "deficiencies" in the execution of her observation protocol.

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Cariss, who struggled with severe anorexia, self-harm, and previous suicide attempts, had been detained under section at Holford Ward in Wellsprings Hospital, Taunton, since June 2019. She was supposed to be under constant five-minute observations, yet a health assistant responsible for her care admitted to being overwhelmed with numerous patients and lacking specific training for such monitoring, as revealed at the inquest.

The former police cadet was pronounced dead at Musgrove Park Hospital two days after she was found unresponsive by the healthcare assistant.

In a statement following the inquest held in Wells, Somerset, Cariss' mother, Ms Schiraldi, expressed her belief that her daughter was "let down" by the services intended to support her and urged the trust to "reflect" on the issues highlighted.

"We miss Cariss very much. There is a space where she should be she is missing from family photos, and there is an empty chair where she should be sat at the dinner table. There is only silence where there should be music and laughter, enjoying time and making plans with friends and family.

"Had Cariss' care been managed differently, we think she would still be with us and working towards her hopes and dreams for the future. Despite her challenges Cariss worked so hard and she was so bright. She needed help with learning how to cope with her condition, and she was let down by the services that were designed to support her.

"I also wish to express my dissatisfaction of the manner in which the coronial investigation into Cariss' death has been undertaken. Cariss died unnaturally in state detention. The state has a duty to investigate such deaths in a timely way. The fact that we as a family had to wait almost five years for an inquest is completely unacceptable and the passage of time hindered the quality of the investigation in numerous ways.

"It is devastating to know the Trust's decision to admit Cariss to a PICU rather than discharge her to the community was influenced by the Trust wanting to avoid future legal risk. We believe that if Cariss had been discharged home at that point, she would still be with us.

"We implore the Trust to reflect on the issues raised by this inquest and the way it has conducted itself in the wake of Cariss' death, so that similar cases and additional distress to families can be avoided in the future."

Andrew Terry, a human rights lawyer representing Cariss' family, said: "Her records indicated that she required observations every five minutes during the day. But on the day that she fatally self-harmed she was not seen for a period of time substantially in excess of the five minutes."

He added: "The jury's conclusion recognises that Cariss did not intend to die. Cariss was extremely unwell, but she desperately wanted to get better."