South Wootton mother tells of anguish over son’s death

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The mother of a man who died while a patient of a Lynn mental health unit has revealed she is now receiving psychological care herself because of the tragedy.

Ann Higgins has spoken of the traumas she endured around the death of her son Christopher, who suffered a fatal head injury while in the care of the Fermoy unit in 2013.

Although she is now beginning her own psychological treatment, she says it is not being provided by the NHS and is only available privately.

Mrs Higgins said she began to realise after his death that the strain of trying to support him through his illness had taken its toll on her mental state as well.

She said: “I came to realise that, during the months of his developing illness of paranoia, living with him, caring and trying to find help for him affected my mind and I became paranoid as well.”

Mrs Higgins and her husband, Jon, believe Christopher, who was 36, would have made a full recovery had he received help when it was first requested, rather than at “crisis point” shortly before his death.

And she has said the experience has left her feeling guilty about letting him go to the Fermoy unit at all.

She said: “My grief at losing Christopher was severe. I would have given my life if he could have lived, did not want to live and at his funeral I wanted to fall into the grave with him.

“I now realise that I was so badly hurt inside that I hated myself and my husband and was convinced that we must have been to blame for his illness.”

Mrs Higgins said that a combination of counselling, the support of friends and her faith had gradually helped her to “live on” after Christopher’s death.

But she admitted that she still “cannot envisage” a time when she would not have to take the anti-depressants and sleeping pills she currently has to use.

She said: “Our family has been blighted by this tragedy.

“I miss Christopher constantly. He is everywhere in my mind, our house and gardden and in the townnearby.

“I have also had to keep a very high level of activities to focus my mind on external matters.

“I am starting a psychological treatment, EMDR, which will , if successful, reduce the emotional connection with the traumatic thoughts that trouble me.

“This has to be a private treatment as the NHS, whose lack of care deprived my son of his life, refuses any psychological treatment.”

The couple are campaigning for independent investigations to be carried out in cases of unexpected deaths like Christopher’s.

Last week, the cause won the support of North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, who said he would take it up with the Government.

That pledge followed last month’s announcement of a review into the way NHS trusts examine such cases after a damning report into Southern Health, which provides mental health services in five counties.

That showed hundreds of deaths there had not been investigated.

But Mrs Higgins said the campaign is not yet a way of coping with the loss of Christopher. She said: “I can see a good is going to come of it, we hope, but that doesn’t really help at the moment. I’m just so angry and bitter.”

Last month, a jury at an inquest in Norwich concluded that Christopher had taken his own life.

And Norfolk coroner Jacqueline Lake highlighted four areas of concern, including staff observations of patients, the communication between mental health units and acute hospitals where patients need to be treated and the ways in which patients are escorted.

But Mr and Mrs Higgins are angry that the jury was not allowed to comment on a number of issues relating to his care.

Mrs Higgins said: “Just as there was no help for my son at his time of need, there is no justice now.

“No-one admits any blame and no-one is accountable for what happened.”

But officials from the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the unit, insisted at the end of the inquest that lessons had been learned from Christopher’s death.

The trust held a meeting with members of Christopher’s family yesterday afternoon.

But its chief executive, Michael Scott, said: “We do not feel that it is appropriate at this point to comment through the media. The meeting between our trust and the family was a private matter.”