Courageous to the end: Mental health services under scrutiny following death of popular young Wiganer
The nation’s mental health services are under scrutiny following the death of a “classy and courageous” Wigan man who took his own life after battling an excruciating illness.
George Robinson, from Standish Lower Ground, died in December after suffering with the painful side effects of ulcerative colitis for almost seven years.
An inquest into the 26-year-old’s death heard about the range of symptoms Mr Robinson suffered, which left him clinically depressed.
Senior Coroner Alan Walsh questioned some of the region’s senior mental health and clinical staff to establish if he could have received mental health care sooner.
The inquest, held at Bolton Coroner’s Court, heard how George’s state of mind deteriorated over the years following a series of gruelling operations which began in 2012.
In a statement to the coroner, George’s dad Keith explained how his son had been a vibrant history and English student at Edge Hill University when he fell ill with the inflammatory bowel disease.
Following his first major operation, George had struggled to come to terms with life with a stoma bag and the implications this could have on his future.
Mr Paul Rooney, consultant colorectal surgeon at the Royal Liverpool Hospitals trust told the court how he had tried an alternative surgery in 2013 to remove the stoma and create an interior “pouch“, which despite the team’s best efforts over a number of procedures across five years, had ultimately failed.
He explained that ahead of the surgery, he had referred George for a psychiatric analysis.
The mental health assessment determined that George had “reactive depression” which he was on medication for.
It was decided that if the surgery was successful it would have improved his mental health.
However following complications with the surgery, George had to have a stoma again just two years later.
In June 2018 he was brought in for major reconstructive surgery but developed an infection just two months later.
At this point he declined any more procedures.
Mr Walsh said: “It is a devastating, horrendous condition. He didn’t see any future for himself.”
When Mr Rooney was asked why George was not referred to mental health services there and then he admitted that it is not an option that the hospital trust currently provides for patients with ulcerative colitis or similar conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
“I understand the risks of surgery on young people when it doesn’t go well,” he told the court.
“I think mental health services for young people are not as good as they should be.
“There’s no support for young patients with ulcerative colitis.”
The inquest heard how there is a national standard set by charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK, which is “not complied with” by a lot of hospital trusts.
Evidence was also heard from Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust and North West Boroughs Mental Healthcare Trust (NWBH) who found out about George’s mental health problems just months before his death.
Deborah Broxson of Wigan Infirmary’s colorectal team, who saw George following his failed surgery in June 2018, told the coroner how questionnaires been brought in since his death to assess stoma patients’ state of mind should they need urgent psychological help.
The court heard how George was brought to A&E in November following an incident where he ran away from a family outing and was later found on a motorway bridge.
After being seen by the hospitals mental health team less than a month before his death, George was referred to NWBH who decided that a home treatment plan would be the best option due to the security and support provided by his close family unit.
The court heard how George had previously expressed feelings that he could not face his life with the ongoing health problems and that he had been reported missing on more than one occasion in the months leading up to his death.
Ian Stirton-Cook, an operations manager at NWBH, said that there was a “delay in accessing appropriate mental health services” for George and they were concerned he had been depressed for a “significant amount of time”.
Mr Stirton-Cook said he believed that there would have been a chance to help George if he had been referred to them much earlier.
On the night of December 8 last year, George managed to escape the watchful eye of his family and took his own life by walking on to the M6 motorway near Shevington where he was involved in a collision with an HGV.
Mr Walsh said: “He believed in his mind that he would have to live with these problems for the rest of his life.
“He expressed the intention that he couldn’t live with those problems and wouldn’t want to be here.
“I understand how devastating for a young man that would be to experience.”
In order to prevent future deaths, the coroner will write to the nation’s Health Secretary to ask for a review of psychological services for people with life-changing physical illnesses.
A copy of his report will also be sent to the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust.
His brother Sam, who attended the inquest, is set to face one of Britain’s most imposing mountains to help others with the condition.
Sam and his dad will lead a group of walkers up Helvellyn to raise money for Crohn's and Colitis UK. The group hopes that the funds will go towards providing mental health help for Crohn's and Colitis sufferers.
To find out more and donate, click here.
If you have been affected by this story, you can call the Samaritans for free on for free on 116 123.