Campaigner seeks answers after his mentally ill brother died alone in filthy Ipswich flat
PUBLISHED: 13:31 21 January 2016 | UPDATED: 13:43 22 January 2016
More than a year after Steve Martin learned his mentally ill brother had died alone and amid filth and squalor, his quest for answers goes on.
“A really good bloke, who’d do anything for a mate.”
That’s how Steve Martin would like to remember his older brother David.
But instead, the over-riding memory he has is one of feeling horror that the 52-year-old had been left to die in such awful conditions.
Some 16 months on he still feels there are a stack of unanswered questions over the care his brother received and his subsequent death, and until that happens he feels unable to mourn his loss. He hopes an inquest, to take place on an unconfirmed date, will reveal the full facts.
“Normally, when a loved one dies, you have the funeral and then you move on,” said Steve. “I can’t do that. There’s a part of me that wants to stay angry and upset until someone has been held to account.
“In many ways it would be easier for the family to keep it all quiet – there’s still a stigma surrounding mental health disorders – but this needs to come out into the open otherwise more people will die unnecessarily.”
David was discovered dead amid squalid conditions in his flat on September 11, 2014 – four days after his 52nd birthday. Pneumonia was listed as the cause of death.
At the time, he had been receiving care from the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, having been diagnosed with complex mental health issues, including bipolar manic depression, schizo-affective disorder and schizophrenia, which he had lived with since his early adult years. He also suffered from a number of physical disabilities affecting his stomach and mobility.
The NSFT has offered its “sincerest condolences” to the family but said it had “fully investigated” the care it provided David, which it claims was relevant to his mental health needs.
Steve had been appointed David’s next of kin more than 20 years earlier after a serious episode in which he attempted to kill their mother prevented further contact with the wider family.
He regularly visited his brother to check on his welfare, even after moving to Norwich and starting a young family of his own, and said the care initially provided by the Trust’s outreach teams was “highly skilled”, praising their work to keep David’s condition manageable and inform him of any developments.
But he has criticised changes prior to David’s death, which resulted from funding cuts.
The funding for David’s flat to be cleaned, previously paid for by Suffolk County Council, was also cut, despite untidiness being linked to his mental ill health.
Steve said a messy environment was often a precursor to his brother suffering a serious mental episode and he was angry that the cuts to cleaning had been agreed without informing him.
When visiting David’s flat after his death, Steve said it had not been cleaned for six weeks; it was damp, there was no hot water and his bedroom window had been broken.
He said a care worker had visited just days before David’s death and had taken photographs of the mess, but had not taken any further action.
“How can you visit someone who is disabled, both physically and mentally, and leave them in an environment like that?” he asked. “I don’t get it – I just don’t get it at all.”
Steve also learned his brother had taken amphetamines the weekend before his death, which he said should have presented another warning.
He said David’s care plan had a strategy for reacting to such triggers, which should have been enacted.
Following his brother’s death, Steve says he was left feeling remorseful and questioned whether there was more he could do.
He has been working with the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, which he says has opened his eyes to the effect of financial cuts across the services.
“I’ve become convinced there must be more people like David out there,” he said. “In my opinion, the administration at the NSFT have got rid of the infrastructure by sacking skilled members of staff and left themselves without the resources to deliver the care that it’s their responsibility to deliver.”
Steve, 50, who now lives in Grantham, Lincolnshire, has submitted an official complaint to the Trust, but claims its response ignored key issues to do with the condition of David’s flat and the competency of his care co-ordinator. “They need to be held to account,” he added.
The EADT launched its Mental Health Watch campaign last year to seek better services in the region. If you have an mental health issue that needs investigating, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Martin describes what his brother meant to him
“The thing that most people missed about David was that he was just a really good bloke; he’d do anything for a mate and wouldn’t put up with anything like animal cruelty, racism or bullying.
“He’d stick up for the little guy and had friends stay with him, long term, that had serious disabilities and illness so he could care for them.
“He was a poet and an artist and was incredibly intelligent.
“His knowledge of history and current affairs had him able to debate with the best of them. He was loved by his family. His nephew and nieces were charmed by his roguish mischief and entertained by his ability to mock his own siblings and conspire with the children.
“In his world he was a warrior and a hero. His episodes threw him into the role of saving the world and defending the innocent. He never let his fear stop him, his disabilities alter him or society shape his thinking.”
Trust says it investigated claims
Alison Armstrong, Director of Operations (Suffolk) Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We fully understand the family’s distress following the death of David Martin in September 2014 and express our sincerest condolences.
“In response to the family’s concerns, we have fully investigated the care and services provided to Mr Martin in the period leading up to his death. We have spoken with his family on a number of occasions to share the outcome of our investigation and listened to their concerns.
“Our Trust supported Mr Martin to have the independence he wished to maintain, by providing him with services appropriate to his mental health needs by experienced staff, who had known him for many years.
“Mr Martin was visited at his home at least once a week and - after the restructure of our services in 2013 - more frequently when additional support was required. This often included accompanying Mr Martin to GP appointments regarding his physical care or helping him with transport to attend them.
“On a number of occasions, our staff encouraged Mr Martin to consider moving into mental health supported housing but he declined as he wished to remain in his own home, close to friends and neighbours. He did agree to have periods of respite in supported housing for short breaks during the year which our staff supported him with.”
Asked about the cuts to cleaning, she added: “Mr Martin was notified that Suffolk County Council would cease to pay for the cleaning of his flat and he agreed to pay for this service out of his benefits. Our staff arranged, and attended, a meeting with the cleaning services manager to support him in putting these arrangements in place. However, Mr Martin later discontinued this service and told our staff that he had made alternative arrangements with a friend.
“Our staff worked with him to support him caring for his flat by looking at options regarding cleaning and upkeep, while maintaining his independence with decision making.
“Our investigation did find that his brother’s contact details were not on Mr Martin’s care plan, although these details were included elsewhere in his electronic patient record. This is a shortcoming that our Trust has previously apologised for. From the information Mr Martin had provided our staff, it appeared that he was in contact with his brother.
“Mr Martin continued to receive a service that was appropriate to his needs, including continuing to work with staff that had known him for several years. The role of the care coordinator is in addition to other roles to ensure Mr Martin care remained relevant to his mental health needs.”