Depressed mother who smothered baby received ‘flawed care’

Erin Sutherland  with her dog Marley. Picture: Jane Barlow

Erin Sutherland with her dog Marley. Picture: Jane Barlow

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The mental health watchdog has exposed a string of flaws in the care of a woman who was jailed for smothering her baby daughter while affected by postnatal depression.

Erin Sutherland, 37, pleaded guilty to culpable homicide after the death of her nine-month-old daughter Chloe at their home in Parkhead View, Edinburgh, in February last year.

A critical report by the Mental Welfare Commission found NHS staff simply accepted Sutherland’s “good facade” and failed to consider her previous history of thinking about killing her children.

It highlighted poor communication between health professionals looking after Sutherland, who may have missed out on care due to flaws within the GP records system.

Alison Thomson, MWC executive nursing director, said: “There were a number of factors which, if addressed, would have increased the likelihood of Ms OP [Sutherland] receiving appropriate care and treatment for her depression at an earlier stage.

“She often presented with a good facade and did not express to any care professionals any thoughts of harm to herself or her children. This gave unfounded reassurance to those who were in contact with her.

“The combination of a previous history of thoughts of infanticide in the first postnatal year, and deteriorating mental health during a time of stressful life events should have alerted those involved to the need for increased vigilance and support.”

Sutherland was jailed for three years, which she will serve in a psychiatric hospital.

Speaking after the sentencing, her former partner Craig Steedman said the system had failed her, as well as their “beautiful, innocent child”.

The case heightened calls for mental health services for new mums to be extended beyond the current six-month cut-off.

Tillie Mabbutt, of the PANDAS Foundation, said: “Given that postnatal depression can affect a mother within the first year of giving birth, a six month cut off for specialist care from the Perinatal Mental Health Service simply does not provide the help and support that mothers need.”

Professor Alex McMahon, of NHS Lothian, said: “Our sincere condolences and sympathies are with the family of baby A. This was a tragic case and one that prompted us to take immediate action.

“These actions have now all been implemented and I would also like to reassure patients and their relatives that lessons have been learned.”

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