Published: 10:38, 16 April 2019
| Updated: 09:45, 18 April 2019
The heartbroken family of a new mother who took her own life is launching a campaign to improve perinatal care, as a coroner warns more deaths could occur.
Rebecca Kruza was 39 when she died at her mother’s home in Alkham near Dover in June 2017.
Her devastated mum Lyn Richardson was holding Rebecca’s eight-month-old son Henry in her arms when she discovered her daughter and then desperately tried to resuscitate her.
Scroll down to hear from Rebecca's mum Lyn Richardson.
Ms Richardson says she will never forget the baby’s screaming in the hours after and the heartbreak of watching his eyes searching for his mummy as the rest of the family arrived home unaware and stunned with shock.
“I wish I could bring Becky back but I can't,” she said.
“I can, though, through this campaign, make things better and bring some justice for her and baby Henry.
“That child has suffered unimaginably.
“As a breastfed baby, he was weaned overnight. For many months he couldn't be put down and was so poorly, it was heartbreaking.
“He has lost his mother, he was there at the horrific moment I found her, and anyone who says my grandson hasn’t been affected is wrong.”
At an inquest last year coroner Alan Blundson ruled the suicide could not have been prevented, but has now ordered a Regulation 28 report by the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust to explain how it will improve postnatal care.
He says evidence at the inquest uncovered concerning matters relating to the care provided to new mothers.
“In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken,” he said.
Rebecca, who lived in Hawkinge with her partner of 21 years Simon McPhee, gave birth to Henry in October 2016 following a traumatic 20-hour labour.
She then suffered breastfeeding difficulties due to her baby’s tongue tie causing Henry gastric problems and failure to thrive, which was not dealt with for months despite seeking help.
She became sleep deprived and visited her GP 12 times between March and May for insomnia and anxiety, before undergoing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and being put on various medications at different dosages, to which she had a history of intolerance.
Ms Richardson says in desperation Rebecca saw a private doctor who she later begged to stop the prescribed antidepressant, which has a black box warning about the side effect of increasing suicide, as it was making her symptoms worse.
During the inquest, the coroner said the drugs had a “minimal effect”.
Rebecca, who had no previous history of mental health issues, was also awaiting an urgent referral to the Mother and Infant Mental Health Service, which arrived with her GP on the day she died.
Records show it had taken eight days to get there.
Ms Richardson said: “Where is the urgency, common sense or humanity in this?
“Assessment procedures, practitioner communication, liaison and safeguarding were and continue to be abysmal in East Kent.”
Through the campaign, Ms Richardson and Rebecca's sister Kate are pushing for wider support for new mothers, particularly with early help and through mother and baby respite homes.
“When we lost Rebecca there were no Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) psychiatric beds in the county, but the KMPT says it has since opened an eight-bed unit in Dartford,” said Ms Richardson.
“This serves a population of 4.5 million in Kent, Sussex and Surrey.”
In the Regulation 28 report, the coroner says this capacity may still be inadequate, meaning delays in admission and vulnerable mothers being sent somewhere else in the country.
“The apparent small capacity now available in Dartford may not prevent a repeat of the situation faced by Rebecca Kruza,” he added.
Ms Richardson, who is a member of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, says in the absence of beds, the alternative means sectioning to a Kent hospital psychiatric unit and forced separation from the baby until an MBU bed becomes available.
'Kent is a victim of the postcode lottery. It falls pitifully short of other areas in the UK' - Lyn Richardson
She says it is crucial that mothers with mild to moderate symptoms of perinatal depression should be given help and placements at mother and baby homes close to where they live.
“If mothers are listened to and given gentle therapies and help early, this will prevent unnecessary escalation to severe mental health and avoid the need for psychiatric interventions and hospitalisation,” she said.
“Kent is a victim of the postcode lottery. It falls pitifully short of other areas in the UK.”
The family is carrying out a survey called What Mums Need to identify required improvements.
It can be accessed through the Facebook page Everglow the Rebecca Kruza Foundation, which has been set up to push for improved services and raise money to help with the fight.
Dover MP Charlie Elphicke has thrown his weight behind the campaign.
“I have contacted the chief executive of the trust and I hope we can all work on this together," he said.
A spokesman for the KMPT says since the tragic loss of Rebecca, a lot has changed and improved in its ability to support mothers and babies.
"Before our Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) Rosewood, opened in the summer of last year, NHS England had not commissioned such beds in Kent and Medway.
"We were pleased that they asked us to create a brand new service, and today we have eight specialist beds for mums and babies in Dartford.
"The eight beds are a regional resource and designed to meet the needs of Kent, Surrey and Sussex women.
"Feedback from our patients and their loved ones over the months since we opened has been extremely positive and Rosewood is a long awaited additional facility in the county.
"Another significant change is the way our community service (Mother and Infant Mental Health Service) works.
"They now accept direct referrals so that anyone needing help can refer themselves to the team instead of needing a healthcare professional to do it for them.
"Feedback from this change has been positive, with patients and families telling us that it feels quick and easy to get the service they need, when they need it.
"Additional investment from NHS England has been prioritised so that we can add new workers to our Mother and Infant Mental Health Service, and in the last year, our team has grown from five nurses to a multidisciplinary team of 40, including administrative support and peer support workers (mums with lived experience).
"We are committed to remembering Rebecca’s experience, and the tragedy of her death. Whilst we will sadly never know if any or all of the changes made would have helped Rebecca, we do know that they are helping many more women and families today."
Rebecca's family is holding a series of fundraising events in the coming months, including a walk from Folkestone to celebrate at Rebecca’s memorial tree at Bushy Ruff in Kearsney Abbey on June 16.
To support the campaign click here.
More by this authorMarijke Hall