No hospital bed available for Mansfield mother who set herself on fire, inquest hears

Vanessa Lucas-Heathorn
Vanessa Lucas-Heathorn

A coroner has said it was “worrying” that a Mansfield woman who killed herself could not get a bed at a mental health unit.

Vanessa Lucas-Heathorn, 44, died in June last year after setting herself on fire on a patch of public land.

The mother-of-two had only been released from custody hours before when she had torched her home in a bid to kill herself.

It was well documented that she had major mental health problems, and had attempted suicide on several occasions before.

Following the house fire, she had appeared in court charged with arson, but was given bail.

A mental health team visited her at her parents shortly after to say they were looking for a bed at a unit, but could not find any.

She died a day later.

On day two of the inquest at Nottinghamshire Coroner’s Court today, Maria Mulrennan, assistant coroner, said: “It’s very worrying that you can have situation where there’s an urgent need and there’s no resources available.”

Giving evidence, Debbie Dolan, operation manager for acute services at Nottinghamshire NHS Trust, said: “This was an extraordinary situation in my experience.

“I have worked for 18 years and this is very, very rare where we have no options available.”

She later added: “We have not had any scenarios like this.”

She said that the trust had since taken steps to rectify any issues.

“There been a huge amount of work on how to manage bed availability,” she added.

But Ms Mulrennan said: “This is the second inquest I have dealt with where someone has died where they were waiting to be admitted for a bed.”

Ms Lucas-Heathorn died from 90 per cent burns after she doused herself in white spirit and set fire to herself on land behind Stow Court in Mansfield Woodhouse, just yards from a primary school, on June 24 last year.

Passers-by rang for an ambulance while a nearby council gardener sprayed her with more than 90 litres of water until paramedics arrived.

Still conscious, she told them that she had done it to herself. She died in hospital in Birmingham hours later.

The inquest heard her mental health had deteriorated in the 12 months before her death, had been a voluntary patient at Millbrook mental health unit in Mansfield, and was candid about wanting to end her life.

Just days before, Ms Lucas-Heathorn had attempted to take her own life by setting fire to her rented house on Valley View, Mansfield.

However, she jumped from a first-floor window to escape the flames.

She was taken to QMC in Nottingham for treatment and subsequently arrested on suspicion of arson.

During interview she candidly told police that she had nothing to live for and wanted to die.

It was recommended by the police that she be charged and detained for her own safety, but she was bailed after a court appearance.