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Claim that NHS failed drinker who died

Tresta. Photo: Shetland News
Tresta. Photo: Shetland News

A WOMAN whose ex-partner drank himself to death last year has called on NHS Shetland to do more to help people suffering from mental health problems.

Sixty year old Debra Nicolson, from Tresta, found her former partner Roddy Nicolson dead in his home in January 2014.

The cause of death was cited as “chronic alcoholism” – a problem the 50 year old suffered from as a result of masking severe depression.

Nicolson spoke out after reading that three people had died from alcohol-related causes in the isles last year.

Nicolson said her ex-partner, who she formally separated from around four years ago, used drinking to self-medicate.

“The only reason he drank at the beginning was to cope with his social inadequacy, and then later on he became so depressed that he would drink to cover up the depression,” she said.

“He would also take drugs like diazepam – it was just self-medicating; he’d try to get drugs that were the least harmful.

“In the end, with the depression and not being able to cope with the way his brain worked, he just started drinking practically non-stop.

“In the years before, he’d want me to go and get alcohol, which I wouldn’t do. And he was detoxed a couple of times with the nurse that would come out.

“But it always seemed to be like sticking a plaster and did not get to the root of the problem.”

Nicolson said that she took up the role of communicating with doctors and healthcare professionals for Roddy because he reached a point where he was unable to “cope” with speaking to other people.

However, the semi-retired woman believes the local NHS did not do enough to ensure her ex-partner received attention.

“Four weeks before he died, he said if he didn’t stop drinking it would kill him. But he said he wanted to stop.

“He also told me that once when he was really quite bad and had been drinking, he called the ambulance out and asked them to section him because he knew he was going to drink himself to death.

“But they won’t section you because you’re drinking. He got to a point where he felt he needed that.”

Nicolson believes the help that was offered to Roddy was not appropriate, or adequate, for his situation.

“And if you keep offering something similar to that, he’s going to say no,” she said.

“I don’t think they had the alternative [types of help] to offer because of a lack of resources. There were only three people who died [from alcohol-related causes in Shetland] last year – but it’s not going to get any better.

“I think what they need is a dedicated detox centre, or maybe one in Orkney they could fly people to.

“And there’s the mental health angle. If people understood what his problem was, then maybe he would have been in with a chance.

“I’m not saying it would have stopped him eventually drinking himself to death, but I don’t think everything was exhausted that could have been done.”

Nicolson added that there is “no parity” between physical and mental health care – and, coupled with a lengthy waiting list, she doesn’t envisage that ever changing.

“I broke my ankle six or seven years ago – it got all fixed quickly, and I went back home. You break your brain, and you have to wait months.”

When contacted for a response, director of community health and social care with NHS Shetland and Shetland Islands Council, Simon Bokor-Ingram, said that while he could not comment on individual cases, he would be “keen to understand more about the case” and invited Nicolson to approach him to discuss her concerns.

Nicolson, however, has spoken out in the wish that the tragic plight of her ex-partner Roddy can highlight the “lack of provision in mental health care” in Shetland.

It’s an issue that has been close to her heart for many years, only to be made all the more stark by the events of last year.

“I didn’t hear from him for three days,” Nicolson said, recalling how she discovered her ex-partner. “I drove past the house – the same lights had been on for a couple of days. So I pulled in, and that’s when I found him.

“I think he just gave up eating and was just drinking. He said to me on the phone ‘I have to drink because I am so depressed’.

“But he said he knew it was going to kill him if he kept doing it.”