A health trust has admitted failing to provide adequate home support for a successful businessman who took his own life when jumping from a multi-storey car park after suffering a mental health breakdown.
Graeme Price, 33, had been discharged home weeks earlier from the mental health assessment unit at Bedford Hospital.
His family were promised he’d have specialist and dedicated home treatment and support, but South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust has now admitted that was not provided.
Mr Price, who enjoyed a highly-successful working career with Ernst & Young and easyJet, had been admitted to the mental health assessment unit after being diagnosed as suffering from depression with psychosis.
He was there three weeks, remaining on the assessment unit at all times as no in-patient mental health beds were available, before suddenly being sent home.
Acting on behalf of his family, Hudgell Solicitors claimed this action was taken without a thorough risk assessment being carried out, without an adequate care plan being in place given his severe depression and thoughts of self-harm, and without providing adequate support and advice to his family.
Despite being promised three daily assessment visits by members of the Crisis Home Treatment Team, visits to Mr Price were reduced to twice a day after just 48 hours, and only once a day after four days back home.
Just over two weeks later, he died from multiple injuries after falling from a multi-story car park, having suddenly got out of the moving family car during a shopping trip.
Following the legal case brought by his wife Linda, the Trust has now agreed ‘substantial damages’ to reflect the loss to Mrs Price and her family.
It comes after independent experts consulted as part of the legal case said that, with appropriate assessments, treatment and care, the majority of people who suffer a first admission with a major depressive disorder make a full remission after a number months.
Experts said Mr Price could have become well enough to return to a senior working role again had appropriate care been provided.
Father had enjoyed successful career and had ‘it all to live for’
Until his admission to hospital in June 2013, Mr Price had shown no signs of mental illness and had been a highly successful businessman, holding down senior positions at companies including Ernst & Young and easyJet.
He had commanded a six-figure salary, extensively travelled and worked overseas in America and Australia. His wife said he was a “happy, loving husband and father who enjoyed an affluent lifestyle and had everything to live for”.
Mrs Price says Graeme was the sort of person who “buzzed off being under pressure at work and enjoyed being successful, coping well with his demanding job roles at home and overseas.”
“Looking back, I simply didn’t see it coming,” she said.
“Graeme always worked very hard but he got a buzz from the responsibility and pressure of work. He was always the first one the office and the last to leave, but he didn’t bring his work home with him. When he was home he committed his time to his family.
“It’s hard thinking back now and wondering what signs I may have missed, and I wonder whether he may have been hiding his mental illness for some time, unable to talk about it. The only real thing I noticed is that for about a week or so before he became ill he struggled to sleep.
“He was a wonderful father and we had a great life. We had a beautiful baby girl, he earned a six-figure salary, we had no debt, a lovely house, an easily manageable mortgage, an affluent lifestyle with great holidays and a great, loving marriage. He had it all to live for.
“Just a fortnight before he became ill we’d all enjoyed a lovely family holiday with his parents to the south of France. He arranged and organised days out whilst we were there and then the weekend before his breakdown we had enjoyed a lovely ‘date night’ in a restaurant. His illness was a rapid onset and I never saw it coming.”
Husband came home from work and ‘it was clear something was badly wrong’
Mrs Price says it was clear her husband was ‘very ill’ when he returned from work one evening in June 2013, choosing not to enter the house as normal, but to knock on the door and wait for it to be answered.
“That was strange in itself as he always just came home and used his key, as anyone would at their own home,” she said.
“He was just stood on the doorstep and looked like a different person. He looked ashen grey and had an almost haunted look. I said that he needed to go to the doctors and he drove himself there straight away. When I look back at it now, I realise that I never had my husband back after that moment. He came home a different man and never recovered.
Initially given sleeping tablets by his doctor, and then anti-depressants after returning a day later, “his mental state rapidly worsened, it was like watching something in a movie”, his wife said.
“He started to say people were after him, that the house was bugged, that people were trying to get him out of his job and that people were coming to get him. Everything was a conspiracy against him and I didn’t know how to handle it or calm him down.” she said.
Wife ‘ashamed’ of her dismissive attitude towards mental health issues
“I am ashamed to say that I have always been a bit dismissive of mental health and didn’t understand it, but that was because I had no experience of mental health,” admitted Mrs Price.
“Mental illness is not a choice, and it’s not something you can prevent. It happens and it can happen to highly successful, strong people. When it does happen, is the support there?”
“I know it wasn’t from me because I was uneducated about it and inexperienced. But was it there from our health service? Not at all. It is a massive issue in our country and it is only going to get worse unless serious changes are made.”
“I think for men it is even worse. Imagine walking into an office and seeing a woman crying and the reaction there would be, then consider the reaction to seeing a male office worker in tears. I can pretty much say with certainty that the reaction and support in many offices would be very different. Why is that? It is wrong.”
“I firmly believe that mental health and emotions need to be focussed on much earlier from school age. I was never taught about it. Everybody could experience it in their lives, either suffering personally or by knowing somebody who suffers. We need to talk more and learn more, and our support services have to improve.”
“Graeme didn’t kill himself. He became ill. He would never have chosen to take his own life.”
Solicitor says case highlights lack of appropriate care for mental health patients
Solicitor Josie Robinson of Hudgell Solicitors said: “This has been a very sad case and one which truly reflects the huge impact mental health can have on an individual and the need for strong and relevant support networks to be in place to help those at such times.
“In this case Mr Price was badly let down by the health services. On his first admission to the assessment unit he was found to be at a high risk of suicide, suffering from severe depression and psychosis.
“He had made two attempts at self-harm whilst an in-patient and when he was discharged he was still in the same mental state. He had not been subject to a detailed further risk assessment and no detailed care plan was in place.
“Mrs Price was not given the advice she needed in terms of how to care for him and she was effectively left alone with a husband who was seriously ill and suicidal.
“It was the opinion of independent doctors that with appropriate treatment as an in-patient or in the community Graeme’s mental health would have improved, he would have made a recovery and he would have returned to employment.
“This is a hugely important aspect of this case, and for many others who suffer mental health problems. With the right support and treatment people can recover and return to home life and work. What happened with Graeme is heart-breaking and unacceptable.
“A much loved son, father and husband has been lost to his family because he was let down. That will live with them forever.”
“Now the legal case has been concluded I hope that Linda can remember the man she loved and admired, rather than the man who in his final weeks was so badly let down and wasn’t given the help he deserved.”
Wife urges families to speak about mental health and open up around issue of depression
With the legal case now concluded four years after his death, Mrs Price, 37, says she and her daughter Emily-Rose, can now focus on happy memories.
“For the past four years those final few weeks, and that horrendous day when Graeme died, have been on my mind,” she said.
“The car park where he died has been like a fixed image in my mind, but the legal case being concluded has at least brought some sense of closure and I am starting to focus on the happy memories again of how he was a caring, funny and happy man.
“I want that to be the memory, but hope that people read about what happened to Graeme and become more open with their own struggles.
“It is a real issue I feel for men to open up and too often depression and mental health is seen as a weakness. Graeme wasn’t weak. He was a strong, clever and successful man.”
Trust admits inadequate care was provided
South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust admitted in legal papers that Graeme ‘needed close monitoring in the community’, but denied being responsible for his death, saying he would have had the mental capacity to have known jumping from the car park would have killed him.
During the case, representatives acting on behalf of the Trust said: “Our clients accept that the pattern of home treatment, the attendance of different individuals carrying out assessments, in light of the recent starting of an antidepressant, this does represent inadequate care and breach of duty is admitted in respect of the home treatment offered in this case.
“It is accepted that he should have been subjected to a more regular review following discharge.”
Mrs Price added: “I do not consider that Graeme took his own life. Graeme died because he was ill and suffering from a mental illness.”