My Brother Could Have Been Saved

Julie Magee lost her brother to suicide in tragic circumstances on 29th January 2011.  Jonny’s mental health had deteriorated rapidly over the last week of his life and in the early morning of Saturday 29th, he walked out of A&E at Belfast City Hospital after waiting for several hours to be sectioned.  He took is own life later that day.  Despite a terrible year for her and her family – Julie has fought and succeeded to ensure that families bereaved by suicide are treated with more respect by the health service.

The loss of her brother was hard enough for her to bear and the questions that were raised about his care by the health service only added to this. In April of last year Julie hoped that some of her questions about her brother’s care would be answered at what is called a Serious Adverse Incident Review. This is organised by a Health Trust to review the care of the person who has died when they have had recent contact with health services.

Unfortunately, for Julie her experience at the Review only made things worse.  Julie had asked to bring someone from PPR to take notes for her family as she was aware from other families experiences that it can take a long time for the Review Report to come out and she may not have been able to remember what had been said by then. Just before the meeting began and in a public area –  a senior health official challenged Julie about bringing a note taker into the Review meeting. This upset her greatly as she was aware that another family had been allowed to take one in and therefore felt that she and her family were being treated differently.

With the support of PPR and PIPS -Julie submitted a complaint about the way her family were treated. At first the response from the Health Trust was negative and defensive which compounded the frustration and anger Julie had felt in the Review meeting. Julie knew, however, that she was on firm ground about her belief in her family’s right to be treated with respect.  With this in mind - she battled on – making sure that any responses from the Trust was evidenced in writing. Finally, in December of 2011 –Julie received notification by letter that all families attending a Serious Adverse Incidents would be entitled to bring a note taker with them. It may seem like a small victory in the scheme of things, but for families going through bereavement as well as this difficult process it is at least one less thing to worry about.

It is heartening to read what the Trust said in their letter to Julie, ‘We are determined to learn from your recent experience to ensure that in future the process supports families and does not lead to further upset.’

I think Julie, families, PPR and others would happily concur with that statement.