The parents of two young men who committed suicide after perceived failures of care by medical staff in Tayside have said they hope the deaths of their sons will not be in vain.
Dale Thomson took his own life in 2015 after spending time in Dundee’s heavily-criticised Carseview Centre, used to house and treat patients with mental health problems.
Dale’s heartbroken mum Mandy McLaren, a vocal critic of the health board and a campaigner for better mental health provision in Dundee, claims NHS Tayside “killed her son” and said she will “never forgive” the board and staff for the treatment Dale received.
She sat down for an interview with Tele, joined by Phil Welsh and Lesley Nicoll, who are also from Dundee.
Their son Lee Welsh took his own life in August 2017 after what the couple say were failings by his GP.
The three agreed to speak to the Tele on camera following the publication of the Trust and Respect report – an independent inquiry into mental health services in Tayside, which found failings at all levels, and made 51 recommendations to the board.
Lee, a talented musician, had endured mental health problems on-and-off for over nine years, being prescribed various alternative medications, but never actually receiving a particular diagnosis.
Phil and Lesley feel if he had received different treatment when he contacted his doctor in the days prior to his death, he would still be alive today.
Phil was given a Valium prescription to give to Lee on Friday August 4 and told to double his dose as his anxiety worsened, when his parents felt he needed to be admitted to Carseview.
They said his doctor told him he would not be able to get a referral to Carseview as it was the early evening on a Friday.
Lee went back to his GP on Monday August 7, having self-harmed over the weekend. However, he was again not referred to Carseview.
He took his own life the following day, aged 27.
NHS Tayside said that as an independent contractor, the actions of Lee’s GP were not the responsibility of the health board.
Mandy McLaren said it was the lack of care by NHS Tayside’s staff at Carseview in 2015 which led to Dale’s death.
The 28-year-old died in January 2015 after leaving the unit, which is part of Ninewells Hospital.
He had referred himself to Carseview via his GP and had been staying there between January 8 and January 10 that year. He discharged himself against medical advice.
Dale’s sister later phoned police to inform them he had threatened to burn down people’s homes once out of the unit, and he was detained by police and returned to Carseview.
However, once assessed by doctors, he was returned to police custody and allowed to live with his grandmother.
Despite a follow-up GP visit and the prescription of an anti-depressant, Dale took his own life.
Mandy and her son Billy, Dale’s identical twin, found him dead in his home on January 27 2015.
In 2016, while saying she could not comment on specific cases, the then-health minister at Holyrood, Shona Robison, apologised for any care which fell below the expected standard.
Ms Robison, who was replaced in the role by Jeane Freeman in June 2018, said: “If a service or part of the health service doesn’t meet the standards it should meet, then of course I would apologise to their family — whether that’s in mental health services or any other service.
“Obviously I can’t comment on individual cases to any great extent, because I’m not party to the full clinical information.
“Most of the time, our services are of a very good quality – sometimes services do fall short of where they should be.”
Mandy, however, said at the time the apology was “too little, too late” and should have been made to her personally.
Phil received an apology from the NHS after what was described as a “callous” response to Lee taking his own life.
Phil said he and Lesley were “disgusted” with the Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership’s statement in the wake of Lee’s death.
They later received a personal apology from then-chief executive of NHS Tayside, Lesley McLay.
Mandy, Phil and Lesley sat down to discuss the tragic deaths of Dale and Lee, their experiences with mental health provision in Tayside, as well as the independent inquiry into services in the region.
The three grieving parents spoke openly and frankly about the circumstances surrounding Lee and Dale’s deaths, and the heartbreak they have lived with since losing their sons.
Both Lee and Dale’s cases have tragic similarities.
The pair were both men in their 20s, had a history of mental health problems, had been supported by their families and had sought help from the NHS.
Both families claim the care they received fell far short of what their sons needed.
And, perhaps most tragically of all, both men left behind young daughters.
Mandy has been involved with a Stakeholders’ Group, set up in 2018, made up mainly of families or service users whose lives have been affected by mental illness or suicide.
They continue to campaign for better mental health services and meet next on February 20, one week before the upcoming NHS Tayside board meeting.
Mandy said she also receives messages and phone calls, sometimes from strangers in Carseview, asking for advice as they struggle with their mental health.
Meanwhile, Phil and Lesley have created a website, titled Not In Vain For Lee, dedicated to their beloved son.
The website aims to share stories relating to mental health issues which can be shared with politicians, charities, and other people, in the hope that “funding and a fresh approach to the subject of mental health will finally be discussed and implemented”.
The family say that if they can prevent one family from enduring the same heartache they are currently suffering, Lee’s death will not have been in vain.
They are also campaigning for a crisis centre for people who can access acute mental health services without referral.
In the Trust and Respect report, it states that the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) has been working with various agencies and bodies in Tayside “to support the drive to increase access to preventative and short-term interventions”.
- IN DETAIL: Independent inquiry into NHS Tayside’s mental health services finds failings at all levels
Phil said this has given the family hope that a facility will become available.
A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside said: “Each suicide is a tragedy and as always our thoughts remain with the families.”
The NHS Tayside board will next meet on February 27, at Ninewells Hospital, with the public invited to attend.
The main focus of the meeting will be the Trust and Respect report’s findings.
NHS Tayside chairwoman, Lorna Birse-Stewart, and chief executive Grant Archibald released a statement on the day the report was published (see below).