Author Topic: The 'breast is best' obsession and a mother driven to take her own life  (Read 6979 times)


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The 'breast is best' obsession and a mother driven to take her own life: This new mum was taken into hospital TWICE because she couldn't feed her baby, but her pleas for help went unheeded

By Jill Foster

PUBLISHED: 22:51, 2 January 2014 | UPDATED: 02:11, 3 January 2014

Last August, little Emily Bingley was playing in her garden when she fell into some shrubs, cutting herself. Her father Chris rushed her to hospital, where the medics quickly patched her up. But like all inquisitive three-year-olds, Emily had some questions.

‘I’d explained to her that hospitals are places where people go to get fixed,’ says Chris, 45. ‘Emily was happily telling the doctors that her mummy — my wife Joe — had been a nurse.

‘But then she wanted to know why Mummy couldn’t be fixed. She’s always known that Mummy is in Heaven and loves her very much. I had to tell her that Mummy had been very ill indeed and that some people can’t be fixed.’

It’s heartbreaking for any loving father to have to navigate through such an agonising conversation.

But in Joe Bingley’s case, the tragic truth is that had it not been for a catalogue of failings by her health authority, she might well have been ‘fixed’.

The 39-year-old new mother had been suffering from severe post-natal depression when she took her own life in April 2010, just ten weeks after giving birth to Emily.

In the weeks leading up to her death, Joe had pleaded for help from her GP, health visitors and even the mental health crisis team to whom who had been referred.

Twice in those ten weeks she had been admitted to hospital with breastfeeding problems and she had not wanted to return home, where she felt unable to cope.

Before she committed suicide, she had begged one mental health careworker: ‘Please take me with you.’ Her pleas were ignored.

Three days later, Joe left her husband and newborn daughter sleeping, walked to the railway line near her home and lay down on the tracks. Seconds later, an express train killed her instantly.

Today Chris, an accountant from Dronfield, Derbyshire, is a single father. He went bankrupt and lost his home paying out half a million pounds in his fight for answers into his wife’s death.

Still, he refuses to give up. Today he is campaigning to ensure that women have access to the specialist mental health services they need.

The past three-and-a-half years have been bleak for Chris. But it was all so different when he met Joe, a nurse at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, in a nightclub in 2000.

‘She had a happy, smiley face and bright blue eyes,’ he says. ‘We got chatting and took a taxi to my house, where we spent all night in the garden, just talking, until the sun rose.

‘We married in September 2005 in Paphos, Cyprus. It was magical.

‘Life was very good. I was earning £10,000 a month, we had a detached five-bedroom house, and I’d often come home from work to find Joe had invited friends around for a party. She was always the life and soul.’

Chris and Joe began trying for children immediately.

‘We were thrilled when she got pregnant in 2006,’ says Chris. ‘But, sadly, Joe lost the baby very early on.’

Another miscarriage followed in 2008, which left them crushed.

‘It was absolutely horrendous,’ Chris recalls. Joe was crying all the time.’

Tellingly, Joe’s medical records — which Chris accessed after her death — reveal that she was suffering from post-natal depression. Chris had no idea that women could develop this after a miscarriage.

‘I knew she was very down, but her health visitor said we needed something to take her mind off it. We threw ourselves into gardening, and Joe seemed to improve.’

In May 2009, the couple went on holiday to Dubai and when they returned home they were overjoyed to find Joe was pregnant again.

Emily was born on February 18, 2010, at Halifax birthing unit, weighing 9lb 3oz. At first, all seemed well.

‘There’s a ten per cent chance that any woman will get post-natal depression,’ says Chris. ‘For someone who has suffered before — like Joe following the miscarriages — there’s a 50 pc chance of having it again, so that alone should have set off alarm bells for those monitoring her pregnancy.

‘It’s a statutory regulation for health visitors to assess for mental health problems — but Joe’s health visitor never asked the relevant questions. I know, because I’ve seen the questionnaire and none of the mental health questions have been ticked.

‘Had they bothered to ask, they may have discovered that Joe’s mother, grandmother and aunt had all suffered from post-natal depression.

‘Joe was struggling with breastfeeding, and she and Emily went back into hospital to get help. She stayed two nights and came out much happier.

‘For a couple of weeks things seemed fine, but then Emily started screaming for hours on end at night. Joe wasn’t producing enough milk and Emily was hungry and losing weight.

‘Joe was beside herself and returned to hospital on March 10. Her medical records say she was stressed and tearful. They suspected she was suffering from post-natal depression, but she was never referred for any kind of mental health help, only help with breastfeeding.

‘The hospital seemed only to focus on the breastfeeding issue, not the mental health one. That’s the breastfeeding lobby for you.

‘Joe ended up being connected to a breast pump for most of the day. By the time I got there in the evening, her chest was battered and bruised. She looked as if she’d been in a fight and was in a desperate state.

‘I questioned why no one had suggested that she bottle-feed the baby. The midwife said that unless Joe or I specifically asked for advice on bottle-feeding, then they weren’t allowed to raise the subject.

‘I asked if we could do bottle-feeding as well as breastfeeding — and that night, for the first time in ten days, Joe fed her baby in her arms with a bottle, and Emily fell asleep.

‘We cried with relief. I don’t blame the midwives — they were fantastic. It’s the hospital and their policies that I blame, putting her physical health ahead of her mental health.’
Joe came home four days later, but it was obvious to Chris and her family that she needed help.

‘My parents came over three or four days a week,’ says Chris. ‘I was doing the midnight feed and the 4 am feed, then would go to work at 6.30am and come home around 7 pm and do whatever I could to help.

‘But it was obvious that Joe wasn’t coping, and things came to a head on the Easter weekend. On the Friday evening she collapsed on the floor and was crying inconsolably. It took me six hours to get her into bed, and I couldn’t get anything out of her other than uncontrollable weeping.

‘The next morning she wouldn’t get out of bed. I encouraged her to go to her GP, who diagnosed post-natal depression and prescribed anti-depressants. She seemed to pick up a little, but it was only on the surface.’

Things took an alarming turn just ten days before Joe died.

‘I got a call from my sister-in-law,’ says Chris. ‘Joe had spoken to her about wanting to drive the car into a brick wall or over a cliff with Emily in it because she couldn’t see a way out.

‘I was horrified. Joe and I went to the GP together the next day and I had to listen as she reeled off eight or nine ways she had considered killing herself: jumping off a building, taking tablets, using a knife …

‘I was scared as hell because she was talking not just about killing herself, but taking Emily with her.’
The GP referred Joe to a mental health crisis team, who decided she would be best treated at home.

This decision angers Chris because now — after an independent investigation — he knows she would have been better off at a mother and baby psychiatric unit.

‘No other options were ever discussed with us other than Joe being treated at home,’ he says.

‘And yet just down the road there were three beds available in the mother and baby unit and Joe could have been admitted. Her death could have been avoided.’

After that, Joe’s condition deteriorated rapidly.

‘On the day before she died, I went into work to tell them that I would need some time off,’ says Chris.

‘I arrived home just as the health visitor was leaving. Joe had been left in a fit of tears. She had been crying solidly for two hours. She was pacing the room saying: “Emily doesn’t need me, there’s no future in this. I’m not a good mum, I’m useless.”

‘I couldn’t understand how anyone could think she was fit to be cared for at home. It took me several hours to calm her down.’

The next morning, at 7.30am, Chris woke to find the space in the bed next to him was empty.

‘I went downstairs and asked my parents, who were staying with us, if they’d seen Joe. They hadn’t — and that’s when panic set in.

‘I raced to the car and went to all  the places she might have been — the park, the woods, up and  down the roads. But she wasn’t anywhere.

‘I came home and called the police, who sent someone round. And as the police officer was asking me to describe what Joe looked like, there was a newsflash on the radio that the trainline was closed and that someone had killed themselves. I knew then. You don’t want to believe it, but I knew.

‘Around an hour later, another policeman arrived and confirmed it. I went into complete meltdown. I collapsed. Joe’s mum turned up and I had to break the news to her, too.’

When the funeral took place two weeks later, more than 400 mourners packed into the church.

‘Everyone was asking the same thing: “Why?’’ ’ says Chris.

An internal report by the hospital concluded post-natal depression could not have been identified while  Joe was in the care of the maternity service.

They said she was suffering from a level of anxiety that was normal for a woman with her first baby.
Unimpressed, Chris started seeking some answers.

He asked Dr Margaret Oates, one of the leading UK experts on post-natal depression, to conduct an independent investigation into Joe’s death. What they uncovered has been shocking.

‘This isn’t the first time it’s happened,’ Chris says.

‘Yorkshire and Humberside is a failing NHS trust. There have been 19 previous independent investigations showing recurring failures in the treatment and care of patients with depression, like Joanne, though not all were post-natal.

Guidelines on how to treat women with post-natal depression have been in place for years, but they simply have not been followed.

‘One of the directors of the crisis team even said to me: “Guidelines are only guidelines — we don’t need to follow them.” ’

Chris set up the Joanne Bingley Memorial Foundation in his wife’s memory.

‘I’ve heard so many stories from people who have suffered because they have had post-natal depression themselves or their wives have had it,’ he says. ‘The one question they all ask is “Why?” ’

Chris has given up work so he can care for Emily and run the campaign. He knows there will be more difficult questions from his little girl in the future.

‘One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was make sure I had a smile on my face every morning,’ he says. ‘I never want Emily to feel guilty or responsible for what happened to Joe, so I made sure that she never saw me crying.

‘But with her maternal history, there’s a 12 times greater chance that she will suffer from depression, too. That makes me even more determined to make a big bloody noise about the changes that need to be made for women suffering from post-natal depression.

‘I cannot let this happen to my daughter, too.’

Carol McKenna, chief officer of NHS Greater Huddersfield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said:  ‘Joanne’s death was a terrible tragedy and our sympathies go out to her family, who may well find things particularly difficult at this time of year.

‘The circumstances surrounding Joanne’s death and the care and treatment she received were examined carefully by the coroner, who concluded that the dramatic decline in Joanne’s condition could not have been foreseen and there were no ongoing system failures.

‘Since Joanne’s death, the local NHS has had close and frequent contact with Mr Bingley, who has been involved in work to devise  and implement an action plan to strengthen services for women with severe post-natal depression.’

For more information, go to www.joebingleymemorial

For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 08457 90 90 90, visit a local Samaritans branch