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Archives for November 2010

Been here before - a death in custody

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Kurt Barling | 17:30 UK time, Thursday, 25 November 2010

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We've been here before. A young man is restrained by police. The force of the restraint leads to a lack of oxygen to the brain. The victim falls into a coma and never recovers consciousness. A family is left bewildered.

23-year-old Seni Lewis was in the midst of his Master's Degree studies in IT and Business and letters from his University show he was held in high regard by his peers and professional staff.

Seni began to display uncharacteristic behaviour after a night out in August over the Bank Holiday weekend.

After two days of unpredictable mood swings and feeling that her son was possibly heading towards a breakdown, Bola Lewis convinced her son and the remainder of her family that they needed to seek professional medical help.

They took Seni to A&E at the Mayday Hospital in Croydon. After admitting him under a temporary mental health sectioning order for his own safety, he showed a continued pattern of unpredictable behaviour which gave everyone, including Seni according to his parents, real cause for concern.

Seni was admitted to the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital on 31 August. The family recall being told there were no beds and that the only options were to release him into his mother's care or to admit him to Bethlem Royal in Bromley.

Despite the fact that Seni had no previous mental health issues, the family accept they did not feel able at that point to give their confused and vulnerable son the care he needed. A voluntary agreement was arrived at to keep Seni at Bethlem as long or short as he wanted.

Bola Lewis says this was her fatal mistake. With hindsight she and husband Conrad wish they had not left their son behind after visiting hours ended at 8pm.

Bola toyed with the idea of sleeping in her car in the hospital car park just so she could be close by. Instead she left her numbers with hospital staff and went home in the knowledge that her son was in the care of professionals.

But whilst she and Conrad were returning home things were beginning to take a turn for the worse at Bethlem. The facts will only be fully known once the Independent Police Complaints Commission has completed its investigation and that has been scrutinised by the Coroner's Court in Croydon.

But it is understood that around 9.30pm police were called to an incident at the hospital involving Seni. He was forcibly restrained, it's believed by up to seven police officers and the rest we know.

The first call the parents received was not to ask for their assistance with their vulnerable son, but to tell them that some time before midnight on the 31st, less than four hours after they'd left him, their son had been admitted to the Mayday Hospital in a coma. He died four days later.

Today the Met Police told the Metropolitan Police Authority no officer has been removed from frontline duties.

And so the Lewis' will have to travel the well trodden path that the Sylvester family went down between 1999 and 2003 to discover what happened to their son Roger in Tottenham.

And the four-year journey the family of Frank Ogboru travelled between 2006 and 2010 to discover how he died whilst being restrained by police officers in Woolwich.

But this time the questions may be asked more urgently elsewhere about how effectively police officers use restraint techniques.

In April this year, another Coroner asked similar questions on the use of restraint whilst looking into the death of Frank Ogboru.

In a very firm set of recommendations to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Coroner Selena Lynch reflected: "Whether this means more training, different training, or training that is delivered in a different way is something that might be usefully considered."

Have these questions been addressed by Sir Paul Stephenson?

In the meantime the Lewis family are left reeling from the shock of having buried a vibrant and healthy son prematurely.

Living hell to living well

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Kurt Barling | 17:09 UK time, Monday, 8 November 2010

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There can be few more traumatic family issues to deal with than trying to manage the slow decline of an elderly relative?

Many families struggle to talk about it and when the end of life approaches providing care which enables a dignified death can be overwhelming.

Sandra Goodhall's mother was 83 when she died in July. She says her mother enjoyed life to the full, but during the last years she did so with increasingly debilitating dementia, cancer and emphysema.

The strain of managing these illnesses, as her mother became less able to deal with everyday issues, placed an enormous strain on the family carers.

At times the bureaucratic responses of the health and social care agencies exacerbates the helplessness many carers feel.

Housing 21 is a housing and care association which delivers accommodation for older people. It has also joined forces with the London Borough of Westminster to deliver dementia services to older residents.

Some of these services are organised around a day centre to give dementia sufferers greater variety in their lives and often desperately needed respite for their family carers.

With funding from The King's Fund, the health care think tank, Housing 21 has also been running a pilot scheme where a dementia and end of life nursing specialist works with families.

The objective of Nurse Morejoy Saineti has been to offer practical training and advice in the home to families and carers. This has often meant that simple issues have been dealt with early and avoided the need for a referral to hospital.

Secondly, the role has been an attempt to break down the culture which means dementia care falls between the cracks of social services and the NHS.

The key is to try and coordinate all the different services required to deliver what the patient needs in order to stay out of hospital and in the home.

The other key role of Morejoy has been to try and bring greater awareness to carers of what deterioration they can expect in a dementia patient.

And the difficult business of talking through and dealing with the preparations for what can often be a traumatic decline and death.

Sandra Goodhall told me the most effective support from Morejoy came from her ability to shoulder much of the administrative burden. This enabled her to step back and ensure the mother-daughter relationship could be restored; a huge stress reliever.

Of course we live in difficult financial times and one of the objectives of the pilot scheme has been to see if coordinating services could deliver better care whilst at the same time reducing duplication and cost.

Lee Sims, who manages Housing 21's dementia centre in Westminster, says an early evaluation of the 18 month long pilot scheme has shown cost savings coming from avoidance of hospital referrals and the lowering of demands for social care services in the home.

The scheme claims to have made effective savings of around a quarter of a million pounds.

That's one housing provider using just one specialist nurse in this way. With greater health care demands for the elderly, inevitable as we increasingly live longer, blue sky thinking like this could prove crucial to preserving services which are traditionally vulnerable to cuts in public expenditure.

For families like the Goodhalls though the measure of success of the scheme is slightly more practical, dare I say meaningful?

It has meant dozens of carers have been able to maintain a more dignified end for their relative.

Raising bits of the Titanic

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Kurt Barling | 19:11 UK time, Wednesday, 3 November 2010

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Alexander Littlejohn was born in London's East End. He went to sea young and then retired to a life as a publican.

At the age of nearly 40 after his young wife died in 1910, leaving him with three children to raise, he decided to return to his seafaring ways aboard the new luxury liners of the White Star Line.

In 1911, leaving his children with a sibling, he first voyage was on the liner the Olympic. In March 1912 Alexander transferred to RMS Titanic.

He worked as a first class steward waiting on the wealthiest travellers. The style was opulent and this is reflected in the new exhibition at the O2 Centre which opens on the 5th November.

The RMS Titanic was trying to take advantage of the burgeoning immigration traffic to the New World. Second and third class carriage was also accommodated in some comfort. The only substantial complaint in third class that there were only two baths between 700 paying passengers.

On display at Greenwich hundreds of artefacts in breath-taking condition considering they have been retrieved from two and a half miles down on the Atlantic sea-bed.

When the ship struck the iceberg on 15 April 1912 and it became clear that a disaster loomed Alexander was ordered to man his lifeboat station. No 13.

He described in his only known interview on the sinking, how he was one of the fortunate ones whose orders meant his life would be saved. As soon as his lifeboat had taken on a few dozen passengers, mostly women and children but also some men from first class, the boat was lowered and rowed a short distance from the ship.

From their lifeboat the occupants had a full view of the stricken liner and its last moments as it upended, the lights went out and slid beneath the surface.

His grandson Philip Littlejohn has written how his grandfather recalled that "all I could hear was the awful cries from the people. The sounds are ringing in my ears now."

Since 1985 there have been several expeditions to the maritime grave in the north Atlantic. Painstakingly thousands of artefacts have been recovered from what is called the debris field. This is the area of around half a mile between the bow and the stern which split apart as the ship originally sank.

No artefacts are removed from the shipwreck itself, considered by many a gravesite. Whilst the exhibition does not tell us an awful lot that is new, it remains a fascinating insight into life aboard the ship and it is spell-binding to see and even touch bits of the real Titanic.

Philip Littlejohn believes that the legacy is so enduring because it marked the end of an era but, he would like the exhibition to help remind people of the tragic loss of life and that each artefact tells a human story behind it.

Within two years World War One had started and the highly stratified and class ridden societies on both sides of the Atlantic would endure lasting challenges to that kind of divided society.

One example of this was the instant dismissal of all crew the moment the ship sank in the north Atlantic. Alexander Littlejohn's continuous certificate of discharge (like a career log book) records under the description of the voyage "intended New York".

Although he ultimately made it as a survivor he could expect no wages and no compensation.

Lifeboat 13 became significant for another Londoner too. Millvina Dean, her mother and brother left their father behind but were saved. Millvina was just a few weeks old and the last survivor of the sinking. Millvina died last year and the London exhibition is being dedicated particularly to her memory.

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