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Norwich carer was so desperate to get mental health help for his partner, he made him homeless

PUBLISHED: 08:35 25 July 2016 | UPDATED: 15:48 26 July 2016

David's partner Anthony Forster died in February after years of struggling to get mental health help. Photo : Steve Adams

David's partner Anthony Forster died in February after years of struggling to get mental health help. Photo : Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2016

A Norwich carer today describes the nightmare of looking after his mentally ill partner in the last few months of his life as he accused the region’s troubled mental health services of failing another patient.

Anthony Forster, who had depression, OCD, anxiety and a Benzodiazepine dependency, choked to death at his Lakenham home at the end of February.

In the week before his death he had taken two drug overdoses and had a history of self-harming. He had also previously been sectioned at Hellesdon Hospital, attacked his partner and a nurse.

But the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) said he did not have a mental health illness and they diagnosed him with a behavioural issue called dependent personality disorder.

His partner of 38 years, David Harper, today accuses the NSFT, which is in special measures, of turning its back on Mr Forster by denying him the mental health treatment he needed.

David said his partner Anthony struggled to get the help he needed from the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust. Photo Steve Adams David said his partner Anthony struggled to get the help he needed from the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust. Photo Steve Adams

“They were not responding to anything I was asking for,” Mr Harper said of the NSFT and Gateway House in Wymondham where he was referred to for community treatment. “I constantly phoned up Gateway. They said they couldn’t do anything.”

The NSFT launched a Serious Incident investigation after the 60- year-old’s death and an inquest will take place in August.

Their investigation found:

Mr Forster was released from the N&N, alone, hours after taking an overdose, without the mental health trust being told;

Anthony Forster who died in February 2016. The NSFT launched an investigation into his death and his partner complained about the perceived lack of treatment he was given. Photo: Submitted Anthony Forster who died in February 2016. The NSFT launched an investigation into his death and his partner complained about the perceived lack of treatment he was given. Photo: Submitted

There was “difficulty” in identifying correct care for Mr Forster

A potential “gap in services” for patients with behavioural issues which is an “ongoing issue”;

Safeguarding issues after Mr Forster attacked his partner just after being released from a mental health ward.

Mr Forster had a history of mental health issues but had lived happily with Mr Harper in Norwich for years. His mental health began deteriorating in early 2014 when he was arrested by police but never charged.

Anthony Forster (right) who died in February 2016. The NSFT launched an investigation into his death and his partner David Harper (left) complained about the perceived lack of treatment he was given. Photo: Submitted Anthony Forster (right) who died in February 2016. The NSFT launched an investigation into his death and his partner David Harper (left) complained about the perceived lack of treatment he was given. Photo: Submitted

He became bed-bound and in early 2015 he was sectioned and spent a month at Hellesdon Hospital.

Mr Harper said their problems with the NSFT began when Mr Forster left Hellesdon and was not given enough support.

Mr Forster never met his own care worker. The NSFT’s own investigation found appointments had been made but they were cancelled.

When Mr Forster was discharged from Hellesdon, Mr Harper said they were promised there would be regular checks from Gateway House and Hellesdon Hospital.

Anthony Forster who died in February 2016. The NSFT launched an investigation into his death and his partner complained about the perceived lack of treatment he was given. Photo: Submitted Anthony Forster who died in February 2016. The NSFT launched an investigation into his death and his partner complained about the perceived lack of treatment he was given. Photo: Submitted

“Everything seemed fine at that time,” he said. “But the only problem is nothing happened.”

Without mental health support in place, Mr Harper said his partner became very aggressive. “It was very unlike Anthony,” he said. “He was very quiet and calm normally.”

The NSFT report details the disturbing last four months of Mr Forster’s life in which he repeatedly lost control of his behaviour, attacked his partner and hospital staff, took two overdoses, was placed in seclusion, and was referred by his GP and a consultant psychiatrist for mental health treatment.

But Mr Harper was told again and again his partner did not have a mental illness.

On one occasion, hours after being released by mental health services he attacked Mr Harper by hitting him with a walking stick and holding a knife to his throat.

“He was pleading back in November to go into hospital,” Mr Harper said. “His doctor thought he needed help, the psychiatric consultant thought he needed hospitalisation, Everyone thought it, the police thought it, the paramedics thought it.”

Mr Harper was calling police up to two times a day in the last months of Mr Forster’s life as he became increasingly aggressive and violent towards him.

Mr Forster, who worked as a mental health nurse before his health problems began in the 1980s, was taken to the N&N twice in the days before his death.

He took a week’s worth of medication in one go on February 23 and again on February 25.

According to the NSFT report, their staff were not informed by the hospital of the overdose.

On the second occasion, Mr Harper phoned up the NSFT and said he couldn’t cope any more.

He said they told him to take a break and they would look after Mr Forster when he came out of the N&N that evening.

Mr Harper went to his brother’s house in Wisbech, but was then called that evening by the N&N who said no one had been in touch from 
mental health services and he would have to come and pick Mr Forster 
up.

When they got back to their flat in Netherwood Green that night, Mr Forster was drinking lots of water and Mr Harper made him a roast beef sandwich and a crumpet.

Mr Harper said there were no crusts on the sandwich but Mr Forster started to choke. He did the Heimlich manoeuvre but Mr Forster then started coughing and choking again. Mr Harper called 999 and while on the phone Mr Forster fell backwards.

“He said ‘I can’t breathe’ and that was the last thing he said to me,” Mr Harper recounted.

Two days later he died at the 
N&N and Mr Harper’s grief has turned to anger at the NSFT.

“He always said to me he couldn’t take the pain and he couldn’t kill himself but if they had given him the mental health treatment he needed and deserved, he wouldn’t have been in this situation,” he said.

•Gap in treatment for personality disorder

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s investigation into Mr Forster’s treatment said there needed to be better treatment for people diagnosed with personality disorders.

It said there had been discussions about the trust developing a specialist team for personality disorder, but it added that “proved difficult in the current climate”.

The investigators said: “This potential gap in services is an ongoing issue for the Trust”

Bohdan Solomka, medical director at the NSFT, said: “We cannot comment on individual cases, but in terms of the services offered for patients with personality disorders, we are aware there is a need for a more consistent and collaborative approach, and we are already taking steps to achieve this.”

He said the trust’s Clinical Strategy 2016-2021 was committed to a review of their personality disorder strategy.

“Work will begin in September to refresh the personality disorder strategy which will be co-produced with clinicians, experts from other agencies as well as service users and carers,” he said.

“We will develop an approach, working with other agencies including social care, housing, police and criminal justice to ensure there is consistency in the services and care which is offered, and there are agreed clear expectations.”

The report also raised concerns that Mr Forster was discharged from the N&N after self-harming without NSFT staff being notified.

A spokesperson for the hospital said: “Our first priority is to treat patients for any physical injuries. Once the medical team is happy that the patient is physically stable and well enough to talk, we arrange for the Mental Health Trust’s psychiatric liaison team to review the patient before they are discharged from hospital.

They added that the N&N “works closely with the Mental Health Trust and their psychiatric liaison team review all patients who come to this hospital before they can be discharged.”

•‘I made my partner homeless to get help’

In January Mr Harper got so desperate for Mr Forster to receive mental health treatment that he locked him out of their flat in Netherwood Green, in Lakenham, in the hope that if he were homeless he was more likely to get help.

On January 10 he phoned out-of-hours help.

“I was told, ‘if you don’t care for him, then you will get him in somewhere’.

“It was just so stupid,” Mr Harper said.

“He came to the flat on Sunday morning and I locked him out.

“The police came round and they said ‘don’t let him in’. This went on all day. Police kept coming round to check on him.

“It was heartbreaking to say he couldn’t come in.

“This went on all day. I was on the phone to out of hours housing and then at 10.45pm they said there was no housing available for Ant as technically he was not homeless. It was a complete waste of time. On Monday morning I just let him in.”

•Anthony’s tragic final year

March 2015: Mr Forster is sectioned at Hellesdon Hospital

April 2015: He is released from Hellesdon Hospital

Summer/Autumn 2015: Becomes bed-bound and taken to N&N with pneumonia

October 2015: GP refers him to NSFT for treatment. He attempts to jump from bedroom window

November 2015: Mr Forster is admitted to mental health ward in seclusion. Leaves two days later and attacks his partner

December 2015: Partner David Harper checks Mr Forster in to the private Priory Hospital in London

January 4, 2016: Mr Forster is charged with assaulting a nurse while being treated at N&N

January 10 2016: Mr Harper locks Mr Forster out house after being told he is more likely to get treatment if he is homeless

January 11 2016: A private psychiatrist recommends urgent admission to mental health ward to treat Mr Forster

February 23: He takes overdose. Taken to N&N and discharged

February 25: Takes second overdose and rushed to hospital. Chokes that night at home and collapses

February 27: Dies in the N&N

•Do you have a story for our investigations unit? Email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk

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