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Health team failed to tell wife that her husband was suicidal

By Shepton Mallet Journal  |  Posted: December 05, 2013

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THE widow of a Shepton Mallet man hopes lessons have been learned following the death of her husband.

Stephen Whittle was 40 when he died last year. He had a history of mental health problems dating back to the early 2000s.

He was referred to the Bridge Adult Mental Health Team by his GP in June 2012, after suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression.

On July 10, 2012, Mr Whittle attended the Bridge for an emergency assessment after a serious suicide attempt.

He had already attempted suicide on two more occasions that week.

The Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Team (CRHTT) planned to visit him at home, in Meadow Rise, to monitor the risk of suicide and provide support.

Mr Whittle died on July 14, last year.

His wife, Zoe, returned from a short trip to the supermarket to discover that her husband had ended his life.

At an inquest into Mr Whittle's death, coroner Tony Williams ruled: "Mr Whittle deliberately suspended himself by the neck with the intention of ending his life and while the balance of his mind was disturbed.

"From July 10, 2012, to the date of Mr Whittle's death, those responsible for Mr Whittle's mental health care did not make his wife aware of the level of risk at which he had been assessed and did not share information with her about his state of mind as may have provided an opportunity to have avoided his death."

At the inquest, the court heard that Mr Whittle had concerns about the stigma that came with mental health problems.

He had asked members of the CRHTT not to tell his wife about his suicide attempts and told his psychiatrist that she already knew.

Mrs Whittle said: "Steve's family and friends have been absolutely devastated by his death.

"He was loved by so many people who would have been there for him during this crisis if only we had known what was happening.

"We can only hope that lessons have been learned by the trust so that no other family has to endure what we have all been through. I still cannot understand why the staff who were caring for Steve, who knew that he was feeling suicidal, were prepared to send Steve home for me to support him when I was completely unaware of how seriously unwell he was.

"The trust has explained some of the changes in procedure that have been implemented since Steve's death during his inquest and I can only hope that this will avoid a similar tragedy for another family."

A spokeswoman for healthcare provider Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said: "I would like to express our sincere condolences to the wife of Stephen Whittle for the loss of her husband.

"We have heard the verdict of the coroner and want to assure Mrs Whittle and her family that we have made a number of changes to our practices since Mr Whittle's death. This includes better communication with a patient's GP, particularly concerning any change of care or treatment for their patient during a time of crisis.

"We recognise the importance of always working closely with a patient's family. This can, in some circumstances, mean sharing confidential information contrary to a patient's wishes and all our staff are trained in family liaison to be aware of the need to share significant risk information with a patient's family when it may help them protect their loved one from serious harm."

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