‘If they had listened to his mum ... he might still be here today’

Karen with a memorial painting for her son David
Karen with a memorial painting for her son David

Bereaved Karen Caffrey says she feels let down by the standards of care given to her son during the years leading up to his death at the age of just 39.

The Aspull mother claims David, who passed away last month, was the victim of a lack of communication between health authorities and of shocking shortcomings in treatment.

There’s no communication between mental health teams and alcohol teams, it’s pathetic. If they had listened to his mum in her right mind rather than a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks he knows what’s best for him he might still be here today

Karen Caffrey

Mrs Caffrey alleged a worker from Addaction treated David as an alcoholic even though consultants at Wigan Infirmary had told him he should never drink again following organ failure in 2015.

She also said she felt she was left alone to cope with David’s serious illness by the 5 Boroughs NHS Foundation Trust as they gave him medication she believes was ineffective and spoke of emotional phone conversations trying to persuade staff he needed to be sectioned.

She also told of missed appointments not followed up and visits from health professionals which were too short to adequately assess his situation.

David suddenly began to experience mental health issues in his early 20s and was eventually diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder which had most of the symptoms of schizophrenia with additional mood disturbances as a result of alcohol.

Mrs Caffrey, of St David’s Crescent, said health authorities should pay more attention to family members and loved ones rather than patients in cases of mental illness and more support needs to be given to relatives.

Mrs Caffrey, 58, said: “There’s no communication between mental health teams and alcohol teams, it’s pathetic. If they had listened to his mum in her right mind rather than a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks he knows what’s best for him he might still be here today.

“They should listen to the families. We realised something bad would have to happen before anyone would listen and that’s exactly how it is.

“I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in 20 years and I couldn’t even go shopping, but because he had family support around him they just left me to it.”

David’s problems with mental illness began when he moved into his own flat while working as a civil engineer following study at Wigan and Leigh College.

He started to complain the property was haunted and soon moved back in with his parents as his agitation at living on his own became more severe.

Mrs Caffrey said David then suffered a blow he never really got over in 2009 when his dad Peter died suddenly from lung disease interstitial pneumonitis aged just 51.

After that the medication he was taking in injection form was withdrawn from production by its manufacturer and Mrs Caffrey claims the doctors did not take into account her wishes when discussing a replacement prescription.

She said: “David’s dad dying sent him into a spiral downwards but about 18 months later I got him on a balance thanks to the injection.

“He had it once a month and in the first week he would be really calm, then from the third week you could see he was beginning to need it again, he would start to talk to himself.

“I went with David to see the psychiatrist after they stopped making the injection to talk about new medication for him.

“He asked David what he would like and he chose the lowest dose of one he had had before and hadn’t worked. I said he needed injections, but they wouldn’t listen to me, they had to listen to David.”

Mrs Caffrey then claims there was an even more serious breakdown in communication following David’s release from hospital early in 2015.

Having originally agreed to go into Leigh Infirmary to have his mental health assessed David was dramatically rushed to Wigan Infirmary with symptoms of multiple organ failure.

He was eventually discharged after making a physical recovery but consultants told him he should become a teetotaller.

However, he was also referred to Addaction and an appointment was made for an employee to see him, where very different advice was given which had an immediate effect.

Mrs Caffrey said: “After changing medication he started drinking heavily and ended up in Wigan hospital in intensive care for three weeks.

“When things started getting better he was sent home, whereas I thought he should have gone back to Leigh. He came back and didn’t touch a drop for about three months but then a lady from the alcohol team based at Coops Building in Wigan come to see him.

“She said he must drink four cans of lager a day. I said the consultant had told him he could never drink again, but she had given David the green light and he went out and bought four cans.

“It got worse because his medication wasn’t working. The 5 Boroughs staff told me he was self-medicating when I rang them and I asked them if that shouldn’t have told them something.”

Other problems described include David missing three appointments up to September 2016 without anyone checking what was happening and staff only visiting the house for around 10 minutes before having to leave again.

Mrs Caffrey also told of difficulties on the phone trying to get David sectioned for his mental illness to be addressed in a care setting rather than at home.

She says the last time she spoke to the 5 Boroughs was one weekend when she rang the out-of-hours number in tears because she was so worried about his risk of harming himself.

She said: “I’ve lost count of the number of times I asked them to section him. I’ve been telling them for 10 years on and off.

“The very last time was on a weekend about four months ago. He was in a really bad way and had locked himself in his room.

“I was crying and heartbroken, begging them to come and see him. I told them I was trying to save my son’s life. No mother would want to see their child sectioned unless it was for their best interests.”

Addaction said David was a service user referred by his GP in December 2015 but it was unable to comment further due to the coroner’s report still ongoing.

The 5 Boroughs said it was carrying out its own review of David’s care.

Gail Briers, chief nurse and director of operational clinical services, said: “We offer our sincere condolences to Mr Caffrey’s family for the loss of their much-loved family member.

“We are assisting with the coroner’s investigation as well as carrying out our own internal investigation into the circumstances which led to David’s death.

“As part of this, Mr Caffrey’s family has been offered a family liaison officer to support their involvement in the investigation. This would include making sure any questions or concerns they may have are responded to through the investigation process.”