Scottish woman tells MSPs partner was refused help week before suicide

Karen McKeown appeared before MSPs to give evidence on her petition. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
Karen McKeown appeared before MSPs to give evidence on her petition. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
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The partner of a man who took his own life has told MSPs she was refused help on eight different occasions in the week leading up to his death.

Karen McKeown said she felt “abandoned” by the health authorities in Lanarkshire as she sought help for her partner, Luke Henderson, during an emotional appearance before Holyrood’s public petitions committee yesterday.

She told MSPs: “Luke was my best friend, he was my partner, he was my soulmate.”

The father-of-two was suffering from hallucinations and “had become mentally unwell” during December 2017, Ms McKeown told MSPs, leaving her “desperately concerned for his safety”.

Despite repeated visits to accident and emergency departments, calls to GP surgeries and the NHS 24 helpline, Ms McKeown said: “Every time we were turned away and abandoned. Every professional I spoke to, I made clear that Luke was planning on taking his own life. Time after time I pleaded for help.”

She found her partner dead on 29 December.

She said: “Luke’s case is not unique – far from it. The same failures are happening up and down the country. We urgently need a mental health service that is fit for purpose. I need to look my children in the eye and tell them their dad did not die in vain.”

MSPs were told that in Lanarkshire, Hairmyres and Monklands hospitals do not have psychiatrists after office hours, and during holiday periods such as Christmas there is a skeleton staff.

Ms McKeown, of Bellshill, added: “Different agencies, the justice, social work and health services should all start ­communicating and start ­linking in with each other, because Luke had warnings in previous risk assessments but these were not highlighted when we went to accident and emergency.”

NHS Lanarkshire said a review and investigation found the correct procedures had been followed.

A petition from Ms McKeown and Gillian Murray – whose uncle, David Ramsay, took his own life after being sent home by NHS Tayside despite three making suicide attempts in four days – has gathered almost 900 signatures. The pair are calling for round-the-clock crisis support, and fatal accident inquiries into suicides where the deceased has been in ­contact with the health service in the three months ­prior to their death.

Ms McKeown said a review into Mr Henderson’s death found medics had not considered him to be mentally ill.

She said: “It didn’t investigate what actually went wrong; where was Luke actually failed? Was it the assessment tools? Was it the staff attitude? Where do the lessons need to be learned?”

Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon, who has been supporting Ms McKeown, said the two women behind the petition are “both so courageous”.

The committee agreed to take the petition forward, as well as writing to the Scottish Government, charities and mental health services for more information.