The family of an anorexia sufferer who died after she had to travel 120 miles for treatment say she was ‘failed’ by a lack of eating disorder services in Kent.
Hayley Smith weighed less than four stone when she died at the age of just 27, after battling the traumatic eating disorder for 15 years.
In one of her final Facebook posts, Hayley revealed that her life ‘consisted of isolation’ as she struggled to ‘let go of the illness’. She also wrote of surviving ‘on one apple a day’ and exercising until she could no longer stand.
A lack of nearby clinics led to her seeking help in Ealing 90 minutes away, and over 120 miles to reach an eating disorder facility in Ipswich.
Her family say she ‘came home to die’ at Christmas.
Hayley Smith (pictured) weighed less than four stone when she died just aged 27, after battling the traumatic eating disorder – anorexia nervosa – for 15 years
Now her mother Ann and sister Jenny claim she was ‘failed’ by the system, and plan to raise awareness of the need for better care for long-term sufferers.
Jenny, 24, said: ‘Hayley was failed. Everyone says there’s not enough down here to help people and to help families.
‘There’s just nothing, and Hayley was sadly let down.’
Their mother Ann added: ‘It isn’t right that you should be sent far away from your families, because that’s who you need.
A lack of nearby clinics led to her seeking help in Ealing 90 minutes away, Bromley 45 minutes away, and Beckenham 50 minutes away. She even travelled over 120 miles to reach an eating disorder facility in Ipswich, before her family say she ‘came home to die’ at Christmas
Now her mother Ann (left) and sister Jenny claim she was ‘failed’ by the system, and plan to raise awareness of the need for better care for long-term sufferers
‘There’s not enough known about it [anorexia]. People would say, “Oh, you should just make her eat” but it doesn’t work like that.
‘It isn’t something that you can do at home – you do need professional help. With the right support, Hayley could have still been saved from this.
‘It didn’t have to kill her.’
A spokesman for East Kent Hospitals, which manages the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital where Hayley spent her last days, told MailOnline: ‘We would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to Hayley’s family for her sad death.
‘We are sorry to hear her family have concerns about her treatment and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss these with them.
‘If people are able to make their own decisions about their care, we offer them the best advice. They are, however, free to leave the hospital if they choose to.’
A spokesman for NHS England added: ‘Patients with an eating disorder are treated in either community setting or as inpatient depending on their individual needs.
‘Currently, adult patients from Kent who require inpatient services are treated in units based in South London. The NHS Long Term Plan outlines a new model of care being introduced in April next year, which will ensure that local organisations working collaboratively will provide eating disorder services more locally.’
Jenny, 24, said: ‘Hayley was failed. Everyone says there’s not enough down here to help people and to help families. There’s just nothing, and Hayley was sadly let down’
Ann said: ‘There’s not enough known about it [anorexia]. With the right support, Hayley could have still been saved from this. It didn’t have to kill her’
Hayley, who as a child was a talented karate athlete and bright A* student, began battling anorexia nervosa when she was just 12.
She started skipping meals, while her negative body-image meant that Hayley would look in the mirror and ‘not see what we were seeing’, Ann said.
Her mother added: ‘It’s heartbreaking. We tried to encourage her to get her life back. So much of her teenage years, she was in and out of hospital.’
Anorexia RED FLAGS, who is most at risk, and HOW TO GET HELP
Health professionals do not know exactly what causes anorexia (stock image)
Anorexia is an eating disorder and serious mental health condition.
People who have anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough food or exercising too much, or both. This can make them very ill because they start to starve.
They often have a distorted image of their bodies, thinking they are fat even when they are underweight.
Men and women of any age can get anorexia, but it’s most common in young women and typically starts in the mid-teens.
Getting help and support as soon as possible gives sufferers the best chance of recovering from anorexia.
Sufferers can recover from anorexia, but it may take time and recovery will be different for everyone.
Health professionals do not know exactly what causes anorexia and other eating disorders, though victims most at risk include:
- Those from families with a history of eating disorders, depression, or alcohol or drug addiction;
- Those who have been criticised for body shape or weight;
- Those concerned with being slim, exacerbated by peer-pressure;
- Those with anxiety, low self-esteem, and with obsessive traits;
- Sexual abuse victims.
Jenny said: ‘It’s an illness that never gets picked up on straight away.
‘It starts off as skipping meals, and then gets more serious. She’d think she was huge. And that says something – it shows that it really is a mental illness.’
A lack of in-patient facilities in Kent saw Hayley moved between out-of-county clinics which she had to travel long distances to reach, Ann said.
She added: ‘There would be other people from this area there – Canterbury, Thanet, Dover – because we have no facilities down here.’
During her stays, Hayley’s indomitable spirit had a big impact on other anorexia sufferers, and she forged lasting friendships with patients.
In September 2019, Hayley was moved to The White House, an eating disorder rehabilitation centre based in Ipswich.
Ann, who does not drive, says travelling the 120 miles to see her was a struggle.
Jenny said: ‘Obviously then you get depressed because you feel like no one cares and it’s so far.
‘She was very low in Ipswich.
‘Maybe she was giving up on herself. I think she knew her body was giving up.’
When Hayley returned home to Sturry just before Christmas, her condition had deteriorated so much that she could hardly walk and had no hair left.
Though she perked up again after being given glucose, Jenny recalled how Hayley ‘used to sometimes say she couldn’t keep fighting anymore’.
On Christmas Eve, her condition worsened further as she went delirious.
Hayley was rushed to the QEQM in Margate, but, despite her fragile state, was reportedly not seen by a doctor.
The next morning – Christmas Day – Hayley stopped breathing, and suffered two cardiac arrests as she was blue-lighted to the QEQM.
She passed away four days later. An inquest opening last week was told she died as a result of hypoxic brain injury due to a cardiac arrest.
Her mother Ann said: ‘She was a fighter. She was battling with the illness so hard and for so long, but she doesn’t have to fight it now. She’s at peace.’