A mum pursued by the NHS over charges of only £29 took her own life by overdosing on the anti-depressants that forced her into debt. Penny Oliver owed sums of £8.60 and £20.60, but with penalty charges and surcharges these soared, the second one alone rising to £120.60.
And having lost hundreds of pounds a month when her benefits were cut, mum Penny, 54, really couldn’t pay. She had only a few pounds in her account and was enveloped by payment requests when her family discovered her dead in bed in June.
Letters from the council, the NHS and Department for Work and Pensions included threats to take her to court and notify her employer if she didn’t pay up.
Penny, from Whitstable, Kent, took an overdose and left heartbreaking letters to her children, and her children say the NHS and DWP have “blood on their hands,” and now Labour has called for an urgent investigation into the NHS policy of pursuing outstanding prescription charges.
This is repulsive and inquiries have to be questioned about the humanity of a policy that does this to defenceless people. Penalty charges should be scrapped, and it’s a disgrace to abuse helpless, sick people in this way.
Ministers urgently need to step in and examine this policy because our NHS is there to support patients get better not make their health worse by putting unacceptable burdens on people like this.
There’s an irony in this because she overdosed on anti-depressants because she couldn’t afford to pay the prescription charges, and this should never have happened because this mum was struggling to cope with having her benefits cut when she was already suffering from poor mental health, but instead the very NHS that should have been helping her deal with her depression instead started harassing her for money and helped to drive her over the threshold, and she ended her life as a consequence.
Penny suffered anxiety and depression for most of her life and in 2014 was left crushed by the loss of her son Josh, 15, after he took ecstasy. She could only work part-time as a tapas bar chef because of a back problem. She got benefits and was entitled to free NHS prescriptions and subsidised dental treatment.
But last November DWP assessors considered her fit for full-time work. That meant no more free prescriptions, including those for anti-depressants, but Penny ticked the free prescription form at a time when she thought she still qualified, but demands for payments came later from the NHS Business Service Authority which tracks down debt and farms proceeds back into healthcare.
One letter asking for £8.60 was posted in May but noted likely penalty charges. The last demand came following Penny’s death for £73.10, including a £43.00 penalty and £2.50 surcharge. Another letter, dated March 15, demanded that £20.60 for NHS dental treatment and a £100 penalty charge for non-payment be paid inside 28 days.
It warned of a possible additional £50 charge. Penny was left in a state of fear.
How can the NHS justify demands for a sum nearly 10 times the payment Penny missed? It’s unbelievable. Penny was simply striving to keep her head above water and it’s disturbing to imagine that she spent the end of her life in fear and feeling so out of control that she saw no way out other than death.
The mixture of demands from the NHS, the council and the DWP got too much and had the NHS helped her rather than stacking more weight on her she would still be here now.
Penny was on benefits while unable to work full-time because of persistent back pain, but when it eased, the anxiety problems still continued but the DWP ruled she was fit for work.
Her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was removed from January, and in turn, her council tax support stopped and housing benefit was halved, from £121.15 a week to just £58.63, and two months later, the council said she owed £303.77 in overpaid benefit.
A DWP demand sent in February said she owed £109.36 and advised that her boss could be contacted to deduct money at source or debt collectors might be called in. Penny agreed to pay £5 a week. She further increased her hours of employment from 15 to 30 and even gave her precious border collie Meggie to a friend, and she even told her GP she was considering death.
Subsequently, on June 14 she took an overdose at her one-bed flat, and an inquest in Maidstone learned that Penny’s mental health had declined quickly after her benefits were cut, and coroner Georgina Gibbs recorded a finding of suicide, stating this because Penny had left notes for her children.
The benefits system punishes people in work and fails to take mental health conditions seriously. These people are destroying people’s lives, they have blood on their hands and whatever self-respect people have left, the authorities are pounding, and the DWP really have no conception how serious it can be living with depression and anxiety.
There’s a serious lack of support and the authorities should have been seeking to help Penny.
Canterbury City Council, the DWP and NHS Business Services Authority all extended their condolences to the family, that’s almost like locking the barn door after the horse has bolted, and it’s not good enough.
This is all so tragic because the Business Authority are behaving like wheel clampers for the NHS, hitting on the sick and most defenceless and making threats by giving out penalties. Yet, the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage can live it up with fancy champagne and lunches and nothing is said, it’s absolutely sickening.
The council are evil and their sympathies are false, with a Tory policy that is shameful, cruel and corrupt to the core, and this is an especially distressing case and if a person has mental health problems they’re not handled with respect compared to someone with a physical disability, particularly by some segments of the NHS, which is not right in a seemingly cultured modern western culture.