Tragic death of paramedic prompts family to call for better support

Nick Lee, pictured with his mother Annie Offer

Nick Lee, with sister Sarah - Credit: The Lee Family

The family of a senior paramedic who took his own life have urged the region's ambulance trust to do more to support its long-serving staff members.

Nick Lee, of Ovington, near Watton, died in December 2021 after recently being promoted by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) to the role of leading operations manager for the west of Norfolk.

Following an inquest into his death held in Norwich, members of his family spoke of their pride at this achievement but called on the Trust to re-evaluate the support it offers to its staff - particularly those who have served for a considerable amount of time.

Mr Lee, who was 46, had been part of the Trust since 2003 and rose through the ranks to a senior role, with his service described as "exemplary".

Nick Lee, pictured with his mother Annie Offer

Nick Lee, pictured with his mother Annie Offer - Credit: The Lee Family

But his family believes that the constant exposure to tragedy that he endured through his role took a huge toll on him - eventually leading to his death.

In a statement issued after the hearing, his family said: "Nick gave his life to helping others and we are all so very proud of his commitment to both the army and the ambulance services.

"Sadly, many years of witnessing suffering and death took its toll on Nick's mental health and led him down a tragic path.

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"Nick held a senior position within the ambulance service but daily exposure to deeply upsetting situations did not anaesthetise him against the suffering of others, but rather brought more suffering onto him.

"We do not want Nick's passing to be in vain and we urge the ambulance service to re-evaluate how they support their staff at all levels. 

"It is imperative that those with years of service receive as much, if not more support, than those just starting out.

"We will remember Nick as an honourable man who served his country, helped to save thousands of lives, and as the best husband, father, son and brother we could wish for."

Nick Lee, pictured with his mother Annie Offer

Nick Lee, with son Tom, wife Michelle and daughter Megan - Credit: The Lee Family

The inquest heard how Mr Lee, who served in the military on tours of Ireland and Bosnia, had been overheard by his daughter, Megan, muttering in the middle of the night about how many bodies he had seen.

The previous night he had been drinking whisky, as he often did on nights when he did not have work, and when Megan heard him walking around downstairs she thought little of it.

But the following morning, his wife Michelle tragically found him hanging in their garage.

In a statement read out to the court on her behalf, Mrs Lee said: "He was a loving husband and father to his two children. He loved to spend time playing golf and cooking for his friends and family.

"He had a very demanding job for the ambulance trust which he loved and excelled in.

"This put extra pressure on him and the Covid pandemic added to this and it made it really hard for him to switch off."

Nick Lee

Tributes have been paid to paramedic Nick Lee - Credit: Supplied by the Lee Family

An EEAST spokesman said: “Nick was a much-respected colleague who worked for EEAST in west Norfolk for 18 years and we are all deeply saddened by his loss.  Our thoughts continue to be with Nick’s family, and those both in EEAST and elsewhere who were close to him.

“After Nick’s unexpected death, we commissioned an independent internal investigation so we could understand the circumstances that led up to it, any contributory work factors which were related to his death and what more we can do to support staff who fulfil what is a difficult and challenging role.

“We have a range of support in place for our staff, including confidential counselling services, a wellbeing hub providing rapid assessment and access to local mental health services, as well as specific support for any colleagues who have experienced traumatic incidents.”

Following his death, a fundraiser in his memory set up by a family friend raised almost £14,000.

  • If you need help and support, call NHS 111 and select option 2 or the Samaritans on 116 123. Both services are available 24 hours, 7 days a week. You can also download the Stay Alive app on Apple & Android.

Family's sadness at conclusion - and why it matters

Yvonne Blake, area coroner for Norfolk, gave a narrative conclusion that Mr Lee had taken his own life - but did not deliver a verdict of suicide.

Sarah Lee, his sister, said: "As a family, we feel a bit let down by the verdict. 

"Nick was an intelligent man and made a decision which has been treated as a mistake.

"The one comfort we had as a family was knowing he made his decision and is now at peace, but now it feels as though his death will be an unacknowledged statistic."

When coroners conclude that a person has deliberately ended their own lives, their deaths contribute to annual suicide statistics. These are then used to help shape mental health services and the amount of funding they are allocated.

However, if a coroner does not reach this conclusion, it is not included in this dataset.

Coroners can only make suicide conclusions when they are sure the person not only took the action of ending their own lives, but that they did so with full understanding of the consequences of their actions.

Critics say this threshold skews suicide statistics, meaning the mental health issues associated with it are not fully reflected.