Sister of Nottingham woman who took fatal overdose says ‘more tragedies will occur’ unless benefits system reformed

Philippa Day (left) with her sister Imogen (family handout)
By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter

The sister of a Nottingham woman who took a fatal overdose says more tragedies will occur unless the benefits system is reformed.

A review into the death of Philippa Day has found she was let down by agencies who should have looked after her.

The 27-year-old died from a brain injury in 2019 after a deliberate overdose of insulin.

The Mapperley woman had a diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and physical health needs due to her type 1 diabetes.

Her £228 weekly money was reduced to £60 after she applied for Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

Philippa was found collapsed by her sister and father with a letter beside her from the Capita, contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), refusing her a home assessment visit over her benefits.

Philippa suffered from agoraphobia and felt she could not cope with leaving the house for the in-person assessment.

A coroner said in 2021 that 28 errors were made in managing her benefits case by the DWP and contractors Capita, which carries out some benefits assessments,

A report by the Nottingham City Safeguarding Adults Board (NCSAB) said that problems with the benefits process “caused her extreme anxiety and distress”.

It added: “This additional stress significantly increased her risk of self-harm and suicide.”

The review was discussed at a Nottingham City Council health and wellbeing board meeting on November 29.

The family agreed a “substantial settlement” in 2021.

A DWP spokesperson said their condolences remained with the family and Capita said it had “strengthened processes” since Philippa’s death.

A safeguarding review is required if an adult “dies or experiences serious harm as a result of abuse or neglect and there is cause for concern about how agencies worked together”.

Independent author Sylvia Manson, of Sylman Consulting, conducted the review.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Philippa’s sister Imogen Day said “small changes” have been made after her sister’s death.

But she said she fears “more tragedies will occur” without a reformed model of disability benefits.

Imogen has been involved with campaigns for an inquiry into benefit deaths since the loss of her sister.

She said: “I think the report was very thorough.

“I believe that the DWP should be rebuilt using co-production methods with claimants, disability organisations and those that have been let down by the system.

“In an ideal world, I would like for disability benefits to be designed by the people that access them, services that support them and the DWP in partnership with each other.

“Pip was incredibly kind and driven. She was also incredibly funny and knew just what to say to make people giggle.”

The safeguarding board believed there were lessons to be learned about how agencies had worked together in relation to supporting Philippa.

The report stated: “She had been receiving benefits including Disability Living Allowance (DLA) due to the effects of her diabetes.

“When Personal Independence Payments (PIP) were introduced to replace DLA, she voluntarily applied for PIP. She experienced significant challenges with the application process; she could not progress her PIP claim and her claim for DLA was stopped.

“She accrued significant debts and was struggling to manage financially. This additional stress, on top of her other life stress factors, significantly increased her episodes of self-harm and the risk of suicide.”

The report said Philippa’s Community Psychiatric Nurse had phoned the DWP “on several occasions” and sent a report to both the DWP and Capita saying she required a home consultation due to her mental health needs.

The report stated: “In the week before she was due to attend the assessment for her PIP claim, she took a large overdose of insulin.

“She was found, in a coma with the appointment letter by her side. Sadly, she
did not recover and died ten weeks later.

“Two weeks later, Capita determined they could decide [on the] claim on the information available without further assessment and PIP was awarded. Sadly, this was too late. [Philippa] died in hospital ten weeks after her admission due to brain injury from insulin overdose.”

The review also found that the DWP has made “many improvements” since the tragedy.

It found the DWP had worked with staff to improve understanding of mental health issues, including training for all new staff prior to contact with a claimant.

It has also “strengthened the scripts of call takers” to highlight vulnerabilities.

The review said improvements had also been made to Capita’s assessment process.

It added that authorities must not discriminate against people with disabilities and said responding to people in distress “requires personal qualities of empathy, care and compassion”.

The review was discussed at a Nottingham City Council health and wellbeing board meeting on November 29.

Sara Storey, Nottingham City Council’s new Director of Adult Health and Social Care, said: “In almost all cases where we undertake a review, they are in difficult and shocking circumstances and sad situations.

“We’ve identified the potential for organisations to have done things differently.

“The driver for those reviews is not to allocate blame, but to identify opportunities for learning.

“We have seen some significant change as a result of some of those reviews.”

A Capita spokesperson said: “We are very sorry for the mistakes we made in processing Philippa’s Personal Independence Payment claim and the additional stress this caused her; and have conveyed our apologies and condolences to her family.

“We have strengthened our processes and are continuously working to improve and deliver a professional, efficient and kind service for every PIP applicant we assess.”

A DWP spokesperson added: “This was a tragic and complex case and our condolences remain with this family.”

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