Widow's heartbreak after Wigan pensioner took his own life just weeks after being removed from the "emergency" mental health list

Kevin and Ann Snalam
Kevin and Ann Snalam

The widow of a Wigan pensioner who killed himself after being taken off the “emergency” help list, said she is horrified to discover that others have been let down by borough mental health services.

Kevin Snalam, from Marsh Green, died in August 2017 just weeks after telling doctors he had “practised” taking his own life three times.

Kevin was 69 when he took his own life

Kevin was 69 when he took his own life

The 69-year-old great-grandad, who was married to his wife Ann for 26 years, was found dead in a patch of woodland just 500m from his home less than two months after being referred to the North West Boroughs Healthcare mental health team by his GP.

Mrs Snalam, who contacted us after reading in our sister paper The Wigan Observer, about the death of 48-year-old Steven Clayton, a dad who died just hours after being seen by mental health services - said that her husband was also “let down” by the system.

Yesterday we highlighted a new report which revealed that there is a male suicide in Wigan every 10 days, far higher than the national average.

An investigation carried out into NWBH following Mr Snalam’s death revealed a number of failings, concluding that his age had not been considered as a risk factor, that he had been taken off the “emergency” list without any consultation with his GP and that he was not given a routine an appointment within seven to 10 days.

The report into his death found that understaffing and an increased workload meant that “no management or clinical supervision” was being undertaken at the time of his death.

His devastated wife, who is hoping to take legal action against the trust, said that she believed lessons had been learned following her husband’s death until she heard that Mr Clayton had died in such similar circumstances.

“He was referred as an emergency from his GP,” she said. “He told the doctor he had practised killing himself three times - he should have been given an emergency appointment.

“This nurse decided to take him off the urgent list and put him as a normal patient.

“There is a test they are supposed to carry out called the Colombia suicide severity test, the nurse never did that either.

“Something has to be done about mental health services. Not just for the patients but for the people left behind.

“Suicide leaves so many unanswered questions. You cannot help but blame yourself and wonder if there is anything you could have done to stop it.

“Now I wonder how many more people have been let down.

“I hope something is sorted, it affects your life, mentally and physically.”

Mrs Snalam, who suffers from a spinal condition which has left her permanently disabled, said that her husband had asked for a weekday appointment as he was unable to do weekends.

Despite this, Mr Snalam was given two Saturday appointments, both of which he could not attend.

His last missed appointment, on July 22, was two and a half weeks before he took his own life and he was not seen by anyone during that time up until his death.

A report published following the investigation admitted that several factors had led to failings in Mr Snalam’s care.

The document, given to Mrs Snalam in November 2017, states: “The assessment team have been working beyond capacity and with a decreased staff establishment due to sickness, maternity and recruitment issues.

“The team have been on the trust’s risk register for some time due to staffing concerns.”

The investigation also concluded that despite Mr Snalam falling into a “high risk” category, his age was never considered a risk factor during his initial assessment.

On top of this, Mrs Snalam claims that the nurse is the same nurse who was also in charge of Mr Clayton’s care.

In the report, it is stated that actions were to be taken to address concerns about his clinical practice and competency.

Mrs Snalam says that she has received no contact from the trust following her husband’s inquest, during which coroner Alan Walsh advised the trust to make changes to their triage process and inform the widow of their progress.

“I have heard nothing since,” she said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous what is going on. I understood that there were to be no telephone assessments after my husband’s death and that this was to be sorted out by December 2017 but they are still doing them and I’ve heard nothing back.”

The trust has since responded to the claims made by Mrs Snalam, saying that action had been taken to improve services since her husband’s death. Gail Briers, chief nurse and deputy chief executive at NWBH, said: “I would again like to express my sincerest condolences to Kevin’s family for their loss.

“We carried out an investigation at the time of Kevin’s death and took action in response.

“This included taking steps to improve communication between healthcare practitioners when regrading referrals; raising awareness among staff of increased risk of suicide in older adults; improving staff clarity of the new telephone triage process which has changed the process of a patient’s initial journey with mental health services, enabling a more robust assessment to identify level of need and allowing patients to be seen more quickly.

“We continually monitor the exceptionally high demand for assessments in Wigan through our Trust risk register.

“To help manage this in the short term, we increased the number of staff in the team.

“To address this long term, we have been working with Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group and other health and care partners as part of Healthier Wigan Partnership to review urgent treatment provision for people suffering a mental health crisis.

“Options being considered include a 24/7 crisis home treatment team which would see a full team focused on urgent mental health referrals and assessments; and finding alternatives to admitting people who are in a mental health crisis. The partnership is due to make decisions around these options later this month.

“We fully understand the devastating impact suicide can have on families and prevention is a big priority for our Trust. In addition to reviewing the process for suicide assessments, we are developing our staff and managers to enhance their skills and knowledge to better support those at high risk of suicide.”