Eight months ago, his mother and Team LB began hearing the first whispers that Connor Sparrowhawk was not the only young dude who had died as a result of failings in the care provided by Southern Health. That Connor’s was not the first family to struggle down an unclear path, hampered by opaque and oppressive processes, to find out what happened to their son and why and how he was given ultimately fatal non-care.
At the beginning of June, Sara Ryan, Connor’s mother, finally heard directly from the other family. And a few days later, the other mother, Rosi Reed, at last felt able to let Gail Hanrahan tell the story of her son, Nico.
Looking at pictures of Connor and Nico, I am struck by their contrasting yet complementary appearances. Connor’s rugged handsomeness, topped by unruly dark curls and framed by sharp sideburns, is Byronic, almost Heathcliffian. Nico is in the mould of Edgar Linton, with delicate features, enormous blue eyes, fair colouring and red-gold hair. Both notably good-looking lads, in their different ways; both infinitely beloved; both desperately missed and mourned.
Up until the point that Rosi Reed contacted Sara Ryan, the Slovens had been doing a cracking job of sweeping Nico’s fate, and the anguish of his family, under the carpet. In fact, Nico’s mother didn’t feel that Sloven had even bothered with the carpet; she described herself and her family as ‘the dust in the corner’.
Nico had multiple, severe needs owing to an undiagnosed syndrome resembling cerebral palsy. He had attended a residential school; sending him there had been a wrench, but the school catered perfectly for his needs and he flourished and progressed. Problems arose when Nico reached school-leaving age and there was no suitable adult provision available for him. A placement was proposed, but the facility was clear that it was not able to cater for Nico’s high level of need. The family were told that unless they found somewhere else within the following six weeks, Nico would be transferred to ‘a place of safety’ which could be anywhere in the country ‘and once there it would be almost impossible to get him out’. Desperate to keep Nico near them, his family agreed to his transfer to a small Oxfordshire ‘home for life’ run by Ridgeway partnership, despite their concerns that it also was incapable of properly supporting his needs.
They were right to be worried. Nico’s person-centred care plan, which had kept him well and thriving, was ignored. The daily physiotherapy, and the twice-weekly speech therapy and hydrotherapy that Nico needed to keep his breathing and swallowing muscles working properly, stopped as soon as he transferred. The therapies were never officially reinstated, despite protests from Nico’s family and from concerned health professionals, some of whom gave their own time to offer therapy, although they could not give Nico the level of therapy he needed and had previously received. He developed muscle spasms and had episodes of choking on his own saliva, which were potentially life-threatening, yet still he received no planned therapies. His family watched him become ‘thin, depressed and frightened by the care’ (care???) ‘he received’.
Ridgeway Partnership was taken over by Southern Health in 2012, but during the eight-month handover process (described by Katrina Percy, in a staff information video, in glowing terms of high-quality provision), there was no improvement to Nico’s living conditions. His family were trying to arrange adapted accommodation and develop a support team so that he could move back home, when the call came to say that a member of staff had found Nico ‘not breathing’ in bed. Like Connor, he was pronounced dead at the John Radcliffe Hospital; like Connor, he had already died before he got there.
And, just as for Connor, the Sloven obfuscation machine lumbered into steamroller motion. The Trust refused to discuss the circumstances of Nico’s death with the family, who had no information whatsoever about how their son and brother died, until they received the coroner’s report nine months later. Sloven completed a ‘root cause analysis’ in 2012, but refused to share it with the family on the outrageously patronising grounds that ‘It was felt that it may be too distressing for you.’ There was no external investigation.
It appeared that staff, like the family, received no support. The family found themselves consoling and comforting staff. I have no information on how Nico’s housemates may have been supported to cope with his loss, but judging by the non-help that Connor’s fellow-residents received, I for one would be prepared to take a punt on support for Nico’s friends being as conspicuous by its absence as it was for his family and carers. Indeed, just like Connor’s family, Nico’s family received quite the reverse of support. They were bullied, disrespected, isolated and ignored.
Unlike Connor’s mother Sara Ryan, Nico’s mother Rosi Reed did not have an established public and social-media profile that she could use as leverage in cracking open Sloven’s apparently impervious façade of ‘nothing to see here, move on’. But now she’s seen how it can be done, Mrs. Reed is up there hammering energetically.
It is not too late for Sloven to do the right thing by the Reed family. They could still set up an independent enquiry, with full powers of access and disclosure. Nico died on Sloven’s watch, after repeated warnings about the gravity of the risks to which he was being exposed though gross lack of therapy. Sloven have the choice about how they deal with his death. I don’t for one minute suppose that the Slovens are going voluntarily to reverse their previous choices and start doing things with regard to Nico properly, openly and transparently, any more than they are being open with Connor’s family.
But let’s be clear: The path of openness, transparency, accountability and simple human kindness is open to the Slovens. They are consciously and deliberately choosing not to take it.