EDP Front Page: Is ‘remote, awful and inhumane’ mental health support in north Norfolk behind a spate of young men’s deaths?

In investigative reporting that is worthy of a national journalism award, Jessica Frank-Keyes of the Eastern Daily Press writes:

Grieving parents and a retired GP say “remote, awful and inhumane” mental health support is leaving young men in north Norfolk at a heightened risk of taking their own lives.

In recent months two young men have taken their lives in Cromer, with campaigners saying the number could be higher – and the finger is being pointed at poor support during crises.

Dr Alasdair Lennox, a retired Cromer GP, said: “All of the services that were useful to young men have gone.”

Mearl and Tracey Brown, the parents of 19-year-old Nyall, who took his own life in May this year, said a lack of support was “definitely a factor” in his death.

And Shawn Brown, father of 22-year-old Adam, who took his own life in June, warned of “more deaths” if things did not improve.

Our campaign was started by concerned mental health professionals after a cluster of preventable deaths five years ago.

Disgracefully, since then deaths have increased dramatically.

Dr Lennox, a GP in Cromer for 25 years, said that, other than being referred to the crisis resolution team by a doctor, which could take up to five days, or seeking private counselling, people needing urgent support were often left with only the option of calling a helpline; which he described as “inhumane”.

“You can’t do it all over the phone,” he said. “The Samaritans are brilliant, but at some point you need to speak to someone.”

He added: “We used to have counsellors in our surgery which we paid for as GPs. They were very useful but we’ve lost that expertise and it’s all being cut back and centralised.

“You’re losing accessibility. If you’re offered an appointment in North Walsham, how are you going to get there? All of the services that were useful to young men have gone.”

He added: “There seems to be a very sad cluster going on at the moment with all these people in north Norfolk. We need to get the message out that it’s not shameful to talk about feelings. People just bottle it up.

“Breast cancer might kill you in five years but suicide is going to kill you today.”

Terry Skyrme, from the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, said he was aware of up to six suicides in Cromer over the past few months.

Terry Skyrme is one of our own.

He said: “Relatives say they tried and tried to get them help and it was never offered.”

Until last year, some mental health services in north Norfolk were delivered by the charity Together for Mental Wellbeing, which had a base in the area.

Together, alongside the St Martin’s Housing Trust and MIND, is now part of the Norfolk Integrated Housing and Community Support Service (NIHCSS), which delivers county-wide mental health support.

Mr Skyrme, 71, said the service, with bases in Norwich, Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn, had made it harder for people in north Norfolk to access support.

Norfolk County Council said this new way of working had helped focus on rehabilitation, and that issues were always investigated when they were raised.

These changes aren’t ‘new ways of working’: they are further massive cuts to already failing mental health services in Norfolk.

In response to a 2018 report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), NHS England said the responsibility for funding some mental health services had been transferred to local government from mental health trusts.

But a Norfolk County Council (NCC) spokesman said they received no ring-fenced funding for mental health.

And this lack of ring-fencing demonstrates the danger of passing responsibility for more mental health services to Norfolk County Council.

The former head of the failed and failing Child Family and Young Person Service (CFYP) at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), Andy Goff, recently joined Norfolk County Council.

Norfolk County Council is said to harbour an ambition to takeover Goff’s former NSFT CFYP ’empire’ despite the appalling track record of Norfolk County Council’s own Children’s Services.

Mental health services will not improve by having a new name plate at the entrance or by being run by the same people who ran them at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) and abandoned them after they failed.

From what we hear, we don’t think the return of Andy Goff would exactly boost the morale of front line mental health staff.

Skatepark campaigner Nyall Brown, 19, from Cromer, died on May 22 this year at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) after a previous attempt to take his own life.

His parents, Mearl and Tracey, said a lack of mental health support was a factor in his death.

The former Grove waiter and Cromer Academy student was described by his mother as “a deeply sensitive, cheeky chappy, [with] his heart on his sleeve, who held his family and friends close”.

But Mrs Brown, 39, described the months leading up to her son’s death as a very difficult time.

She said: “Nyall tried to take his life at the end of January. In December he tried to self harm but I took him to the doctors.”

Nyall was directed towards the children, families and young people’s service drop in centre, a 40-minute drive away in Norwich.

Mrs Brown said: “It was a huge argument to get him there that morning. I must have battled with him for an hour and a half.

“He was told he could have a telephone call for an assessment. In between that and his first face-to-face he attempted suicide.”

After being discharged from hospital, Nyall was placed on a waiting list for the Wellbeing service, which provides a range of support, aimed at people before they reach crisis point.

Mrs Brown said: “We just felt he was passed from pillar to post and nobody knew what to do with him.

“He waited two weeks to see the low mood and anxiety person, when he had gone quite beyond that point. It wasn’t just a little bit of sadness. He was in a bad place.”

Mr Brown, 45, added: “There’s nothing in this area. We were sent home with a ticking time bomb.”

Mrs Brown said: “With appointments the anxiety level builds up. You can’t guarantee you’re going to be having a talkative day, but the next day you might be able to.

“A drop-in centre in Cromer would have been fundamental.”

Debbie White, soon to retire and no longer a member of the NSFT Board, is left to defend the indefensible. We’re not going to insult the bereaved by repeating the excuses here.

The recent deaths by suicide of several young men from north Norfolk have left close-knit communities shocked and families and friends grieving.

And now the family of 22-year-old Adam Brown, who took his own life in June, have spoken about how their son was “failed” by a lack of mental health support.

Mr Brown, who worked in the fishing industry alongside his father, was found hanged in the stairwell of the building he lived in on Cromer High Street.

An inquest at Norfolk Coroner’s Court on October 9 found Mr Brown took his own life while under the influence of alcohol.

Assistant coroner, Johanna Thompson gave a narrative conclusion and said Mr Brown took his own life while under the influence of alcohol, but his intent in doing so remained unclear.

It appears very difficult for people in contact with mental health services to be found to have died from suicide by the Norfolk Coroner, sometimes even when a note is left and the death is violent. How will suicides be prevented amongst people who rely on mental health services if they are not recorded? Geraldine Scott, the Health Correspondent of the EDP, wrote an extremely powerful article about this important issue.

Professionals and bereaved families have repeatedly raised their concerns about the Norfolk Coroner with us, some extremely upset by their experiences of the Coroner’s Court. We have repeatedly raised our deep concerns about Norfolk’s Coroner with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and local MPs.

We wrote to the Norfolk Coroner, Jacqueline Lake, back in July 2014, as unexpected deaths at NSFT were going through the roof. She refused to meet us. Four years and many deaths ago.

But Adam’s father, Shawn Brown, said: “If something isn’t done soon about mental health in north Norfolk there are going to be more deaths.”

Mr Brown said he knew of four other young men who had taken their own lives in the same month as his son.

He said: “There were five deaths in the month Adam did what he did – two 33-year-olds, a 19-year-old, my boy, 22, and a 30-year-old.

“My youngest son, he’s just had two attempts at suicide.

“Both times he ended up on the ventilator at the NNUH.

“He had two appointments and they just discharged him – there’s nothing more they can do.

“If something isn’t done soon about mental health in north Norfolk there are going to be more deaths.”

“He had two appointments and they just discharged him – there’s nothing more they can do.

“If something isn’t done soon about mental health in north Norfolk there are going to be more deaths.”

“He had various support but they just seemed to fail him every time.

“The nearest appointment was in North Walsham or Norwich.

“There was nothing available in Cromer at all.

“He found that difficult. He had a problem with public transport and being around people. If there was something a little bit more accessible to him he would have attended more.”

Mr Brown described services in Cromer as “absolutely dire”.

We’ve been raising our concerns about mental health services and suicide in Norfolk and Suffolk for nearly five years. Our campaign was founded over these concerns.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the suicide rate for north Norfolk in 2014-16 was 10.5 deaths in every 100,000.

This figure is higher than the national rate of 9.9 deaths by suicide in 100,000.

However, the highest suicide rate in Norfolk was Norwich, which had a rate of 15.8 deaths by suicide in every 100,000.

Norfolk County Council (NCC) is part of the Norfolk Suicide Prevention Strategy, which aims to reduce suicides over the next five years to as close to zero as possible.

An NCC spokesperson said: “NCC has recently been awarded a further £374,000 to increase services and resources across to targeted and priority groups who research suggests are vulnerable to suicide.”

They added: “The council and the five CCGs have worked together with the mental health trust, service users and carers to transform services for adults with mental health needs.”

The slashing of mental health service budgets by Norfolk County Council and the five CCGs is an innovative approach to suicide prevention.

The resulting crisis is scandalous.

At the recent NSFT Annual General Meeting (AGM), a bereaved mother raised the issue of the treatment of bereaved families by the mental health trust. The Board could not give the woman a decent answer. It is an issue we have been raising for years. The issue is again raised by a bereaved parent in the EDP:

Mr Brown said one example was the amount of paperwork received after his son’s death, and how it referred to him simply as a “service user” and later as NB.

He said: “A simple thing like that when you’re going through the emotion and shock, and the paperwork, it’s a bombardment.”

The solution is not simply less paperwork: it is also fewer deaths.

Click on the image below to read the story in full on the EDP website:


199 thoughts on “EDP Front Page: Is ‘remote, awful and inhumane’ mental health support in north Norfolk behind a spate of young men’s deaths?”

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