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27th May 2014
A young Spixworth man who died after jumping from the roof of the Castle Mall in Norwich had told clinicians that he had rigged a noose in his flat and intended to take his own life. Their response was to write to him suggesting an appointment for him to see doctors – a month later. Two weeks after that he took his own life.
Matthew Dunham, aged 25, first contacted Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust in February last year. By 27 March Matthew was reporting low motivation having been commenced on Citalopram for two weeks. He was assessed as suffering with severe low mood and mild anxiety. He was advised to attend stress control sessions at the Forum Trust in Norwich. A month later he was talking about suicide.
On 8 April Matthew attended an assessment. The clinician recorded evidence of depressive symptoms and a sense of hopelessness. He had significant risk factors including financial issues, unemployment, recent overdose attempt with medication and living alone. Matthew disclosed that he felt suicidal at times and, on the previous evening, he had set up a noose in his flat standing in front of it for 20 minutes. He was rated as 7/10 to take his own life.
As a result, Matthew was referred to the FAST recovery team, whose job it is to provide periods of intervention in secondary care settings. But in a puzzling interpretation of their name, two weeks later FAST had still not contacted him. Instead, they held a meeting among themselves, at which Matthew was allocated a social worker. As a result of this initiative, on 25 April FAST wrote Matthew a letter suggesting a meeting, but to be held a month later.
On 9 May 2013, Matthew went up to the fifth floor of the Castle Mall and jumped to his death. An inquest into Matthew’s death concluded in September 2013 and recorded a verdict of suicide whilst suffering from mental disorder and whilst in receipt of mental health services. But the coroner, William Armstrong, made a number of recommendations to the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Trust to improve what appear to have been systematic failings.
Matthew’s family feel the mental health service let Matthew down and have decided to take legal action against the trust. Their lawyer is medical negligence specialist Ben Ward of Ashton KCJ.
‘The details of Matthew’s torment and lack of help in the weeks before he died reveal a hapless and hopelessly bureaucratic mental health service, which completely betrayed him,’ claims Ben Ward. ‘It’s difficult to envisage what could possibly have gone through the minds of the FAST team in allocating a young man threatening suicide a meeting a month hence. Matthew was let down by those professionals whose job it was to protect him. Perhaps the service is so chronically short of money that people will continue to suffer and take their own lives. If that is the case the Trust should come out and say so.
‘In recent months Ashton KCJ has been instructed by an increasing number of families who have had a young family member commit suicide following attempts to access mental health services. This is not just restricted to East Anglia. It is a nationwide epidemic. The answer is not to raise barrier heights in shopping malls or place social workers on bridges! Mental Health Services need investment and less bureaucratic nonsense so that vulnerable patients can access front-line services before it is too late for them, just as it was for Matthew’.