Heartbroken Wigan widow taking legal action against NHS after husband's suicide

A grieving widow whose husband took his own life hours after seeing mental health specialists claims he was “let down in his hour of need”.

Friday, 24th May 2019, 11:12 am
Updated Friday, 24th May 2019, 12:12 pm
Deb and Steven a month before his death

Deb Clayton is pursuing legal action against a health trust after the death of husband Steven, 48, who she described as a “wonderful, loving and funny man”.

He was found dead on the fringes of Haigh Woodland Park in September 2017, just days after his wife first noticed anything was wrong.

Mrs Clayton said: “He became unwell very quickly. Just the week before he died he’d been on a golfing holiday with friends in Turkey and I knew something wasn’t right when he called from there. He was emotional and saying he wouldn’t be going on holiday without me again.

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Deb and Steven a month before his death

“When he got back home he wasn’t right. He wasn’t making sense in a lot of the things he was saying.”

“He was paranoid about the people he had been away with. He felt they had been talking behind his back and on an online chat group, which wasn’t the case.

“I’m not sure what happened to him when he was away but he wasn’t the same man when he came home, and it was really strange because he’d had no previous mental health issues at all. It came from nowhere.”

Mrs Clayton, 51, says her husband called her at work at around 3am on September 26, 2017 and was clearly distressed and considering taking his own life.

She said: “Steven asked me on the way to see the specialists what would happen and I said that they’d probably be asking a lot of questions and assessing him on some sort of scale before deciding what to do.

“When we got there it was more of a general chat about what had happened and how he was feeling at the time. I was surprised by that but trusted them as they are the experts and experienced in judging people’s state of mind and supporting them.

“Looking back now I feel they just didn’t do all they could for him.”

She says he told the specialists that he had researched ropes and nooses.

“I was so shocked but also very proud of him for admitting how he was struggling. He seemed very calm and I hoped we were heading in the right direction, but I expected more to be asked and more in-depth assessments given what had happened over the past couple of days,” she said.

“They gave him antidepressants and suggested they’d be enough to stave off the suicidal thoughts, then they sent us on our way.

“I simply put my trust in them, and was probably just trying to be positive and convince myself it would all get better, but we all feel so let down now.”

The couple, who have five children between them, returned to their home in Kitt Green. But that night, while his wife was asleep, Mr Clayton left in their car and was later found dead.

Now, just a month before what would have been his 50th birthday, Mrs Clayton is pursuing legal action against North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust through medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors.

Solicitor Laura Larkin said: “The coroner at inquest accepted that Steven’s intent had been affected by mental health and said so in his narrative conclusion. That cannot be doubted.

“The internal investigation into the care provided by the Wigan assessment team highlighted a number of areas of concern, including questions over the practices of a senior nurse practitioner who is there to make decisions which can prove the difference between life and death.

“Errors were highlighted such as not using evidence-based assessment tools fully, not assessing properly the seriousness of Steven’s condition and not providing Steven nor his family with any written crisis plan. This is simply unacceptable. Steven’s symptoms were not fully or appropriately explored.

“His suicidal thoughts and intent the previous day were also not properly challenged.

“Mrs Clayton was not asked for her opinions or provided with support herself. She was sent home with her husband still at huge risk – as was evidenced by the tragic outcome – with no written crisis or safety plan, no crisis contact numbers or advice and actions to take should his suicidal thoughts return.

“It was simply not good enough.”

Mrs Larkin said her firm has now written to the trust alleging negligence, adding: “It is our case that had Steven received a reasonable standard of care he would have been kept safe until his risk of harm diminished and, on the balance of probabilities, his death would have been avoided.”

Mrs Clayton said: “Steven was let down when he needed people to protect him from himself. He wasn’t the Steven I’d known most of my life at stage, he wasn’t well. He wasn’t in a frame of mind to make his own decisions or certainly to take the decision to take his life, he didn’t know what he was doing.

“Steven often talked about his own dad killing himself and said he could never leave his own family with such devastation. I know he didn’t choose this. If he didn’t want help he wouldn’t have let me take him to the GP and he wouldn’t have gone to see the assessment team. He didn’t know what he was doing.”

Gail Briers, chief nurse and deputy chief executive at North West Boroughs NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I would again like to express my sincerest condolences to Steven’s family for their loss.

“As we are in the process of dealing with a claim from the family, I’m unfortunately not able to comment further on this case.”