Ex-banker battling alcoholism told to keeping having 6 pints by doctor

Ex-investment banker’s partner slams the NHS after he hanged himself days after his GP told him to RESUME drinking six pints of strong lager while fighting alcohol addiction

  • Dr Vikash Patel told Stephen Appleton, 51, abstaining could cause fatal seizures 
  • Mr Appleton gave up alcohol for a few days and attended alcoholics anonymous
  • But Dr Patel told him to resume his six-pints-a-day at an appointment on April 4 
  • He was found hanged at his home in Berkshire eight days later on April 12 2018
  • Stephen had been rehearsing his death but was considered ‘low risk’ by the NHS

A former investment banker battling alcoholism who hanged himself after his GP told him to start drinking again was failed by the NHS who were warned he was planning his suicide, his partner said today.  

Sandra Smith said before Stephen Appleton’s death in Berkshire last year he had ‘given up hope’ he could be saved from his drinking and mental health problems. 

Ms Smith said: ‘Even when he was planning and rehearsing his method of killing himself and I was desperately trying to get help, no one seemed overly concerned. No-one offered the help that Stephen and I needed there and then.

‘Our family has lost Stephen, the father and partner we loved and the person who supported us through everything. I believe he could have been saved with the right treatment. Instead, he was left suffering whilst his symptoms of paranoia, fear and false beliefs worsened. We will never come to terms with our loss. 

She added: ‘I believe the mental health services let us down and that the way they operate means that patients such as Stephen are not safe’.

Sandra Smith with her partner Stephen Appleton was failed by the NHS as he took his own life while battling depression and alcoholism. He had given up drinking but told to start again to avoid seizures

Mr Appleton took his own life in April last year – eight days after his GP Dr Vikash Patel told him he should resume his habit of drinking six pints of strong lager a day because abstaining completely could kill him, the inquest heard. 

In January 2018 Mr Appleton started attending alcoholics anonymous and registered with his local mental health service in Berkshire after years of battling depression and alcohol addiction.

Stephen Appleton, 51 (pictured in an undated photo), gave up drinking on April 2 2018 after years of battling alcoholism and depression. An inquest heard he was told to resume drinking by his doctor and was found hanged eight days later

But in the three months before his death he only spoke to a counsellor on the phone and told a face-to-face appointment was ten weeks away.

At the end of the inquest into his death Berkshire assistant coroner Alison McCormick concluded that his death was suicide while suffering from mental illness and alcohol dependence.

But she added that his case raises wider concerns about the care offered to those considered to be at low risk of suicide or self-harm. 

His partner Sandra: ‘Stephen was let down by our local mental health service. He was depressed and anxious but sought help. However, after weeks of seeking help I believe he gave up hope when that help could not be found’.

At an earlier hearing the coroner had been told how Mr Appleton went to see his GP in Bracknell and told to ramp his drinking back up to six pints a day after he had managed to go ‘cold turkey’ and abstain from alcohol for days.

Ms Smith said: ‘I was shocked and could not believe it. Dr Patel had told Stephen to start drinking again and taper off slowly in a controlled way. How could I control the drinking of a man who drank in secret?

‘I believe the mental health services let us down and that the way they operate means that patients such as Stephen are not safe. I believe he could have been saved with the right treatment.’ 

She added: ‘His symptoms started only about a year before his death. Before that he was full of life. He was loved by his family and friends and we loved him’.

The inquest in Reading heard Mr Appleton worked in investment banking for 15 years in London but was made redundant in 2009. 

He moved back to his native Australia in 2010 and took on his father’s business of helping people in financial difficulty, but each bankrupted client ‘took a part of him’ and he started to get depressed and drinking heavily in 2016, the inquest was told.  

After returning to Britain and revealing his problems to the NHS he was deemed to be a low risk to himself and told he would have to wait eight to 10 weeks for face-to-face counselling.

He died whilst waiting for these treatments, the coroner observed.

Berkshire assistant coroner Alison McCormick told the inquest that although finance expert Stephen was in contact with mental health and alcohol dependency services in the months before his death, he was not provided with counselling or detoxification.

She said: ‘My concern remains that patients who are assessed at low risk of suicide or self-harm will have no review or support during that time they are waiting for counselling. During that period of time their risk may increase and if it did, nobody would know’.

Dr Vikash Patel (pictured centre outside Reading Coroner’s Court today) told him abstaining could kill him and he should resume his habit of drinking six pints of strong lager a day

Concluding the inquest Ms McCormick said: ‘Patients are left simply to contact their GP, to contact the Crisis Team or be dependent on their family for support. It seems to me that there is no review for someone deemed to be a low risk in this waiting period, and if it is to fall to the GP, they need to be told about the situation.

‘But they are not in themselves a mental health practitioner and it seems to me that this is passing the buck back to the General Practitioner whilst patients are on the waiting list.’

During the inquest in February Dr Patel, who practised at the Lee House Surgery in Windsor, was asked to explain why he had encouraged the alcoholic man to drink again.

Dr Patel said: ‘Stephen had reduced his alcohol intake, had been abstaining for two or three days. 

‘My understanding at the time is that he was consuming somewhere in the region of six pints a day before.

‘We had a discussion about the risks of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, my main concerns were with respect to withdrawal seizures, which can potentially be fatal. 

‘I was told that his alcohol consumption should be reverted back to original levels and reduced by 10 per cent per week. 

‘I felt that to be reasonable or he would have run the risk of potentially fatal consequences.’

Dr Patel told the inquest he was following generic advice from Slough-based Turning Point, an alcohol management team, which he conveyed to Mr Appleton, who seemed to agree, though he admitted his partner did not.

For confidential support in the UK you can call the Samaritans 24/7 on 116 123 or email [email protected]  

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