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Inquest concludes into suicide of former rugby player

Stephen with wife Joanne Photo:
Credit: Irwin Mitchell

The widow of a former Rugby League player and youth coach, who died after suffering from mental health problems, has expressed her hope that the lessons from her husband’s death continue to be learned.

Stephen Gartland, who was 45, was found dead in Castleton, Rochdale, last August after a battle with depression. Stephen, known as ‘Garty’ to his friends, had spent time under the care of Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust and treated in hospital in the months before his death.

As well as being father-of-two boys, Bradley and Liam, Stephen was a former player for Rugby League teams Rochdale Hornets, Oldham Roughyeds and Swinton Lions. Following his playing career, he moved into youth coaching and helped develop some current Superleague players.

In early 2016, Stephen began to show signs that he was suffering from mental health issues. He became quieter, withdrawn and suffered weight loss. In May, Stephen sought medical advice and he continued to receive treatment up until his death on 19 August, 2016.

An inquest into his death was held at Rochdale Coroner’s Court at The Phoenix Centre, the coroner ruled there was no issues of neglect with the care the Trust provided for Stephen.

However over the course of the inquest, the findings of an Untoward Incident Report, conducted by Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust in the wake of Stephen’s death, were heard.

The coroner did reiterate a number of care and service delivery issues that Untoward Incident Report had highlighted as areas that the senior management team at Birch Hill Hospital needed to address. The report identified a number of influencing factors:

  • - Lack of focus on suicidality as a more central theme across the care pathways
  • - Lack of therapeutic one on one time by the registered nursing team on Moorside ward at Birch Hill Hospital
  • - Environmental disruption
  • - Lack of a personal and structured discharge plan
  • - The Home Treatment Team should have included the clinical lead in the decision to discharge Stephen from all services.

His widow Joanne, 46, who still lives in Rochdale, said:

The entire family was devastated by Stephen’s death and I, along with Bradley and Liam are still trying to come to terms with it.

We hope that the Trust continues to learn from the issues which have been highlighted at inquest to ensure other families are spared the pain we have to endure on a daily basis.

Nothing can bring Stephen back of course, but simply, I do not want any other family to suffer like we have suffered or like Stephen suffered.

– Joanne Gartland

In a statement, Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust said:

On behalf the Trust, I would like to offer my deepest condolences to Stephen’s family.

We respect the outcome of the inquest and apologise unreservedly that elements of the care we provided fell below the high standards we set ourselves.

The Trust launched an immediate and robust investigation into the care provided to Stephen. A range of improvements have already been made and others are in progress. The coroner is assured that these improvements will prevent a re-occurrence.

It is our absolute priority to provide services that are safe and effective for patients, their families and carers.

– Spokesperson, Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust