Saturday 19 January 2019

Mother of tragic 11-year-old Milly suing HSE to 'expose the flaws' in Irish healthcare system


MUCH-LOVED: Milly Tuomey
MUCH-LOVED: Milly Tuomey
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The mother of Milly Tuomey is suing the Health Service Executive to "expose the flaws" in the Irish health care system that she alleges contributed to her 11-year-old daughter's death by suicide.

Fiona Tuomey has issued legal proceedings in the High Court against the HSE, a private psychology clinic and others. The case was launched on January 3, almost two years to the day since her daughter took her own life.

An inquest into Milly's death in November heard how the schoolgirl from Templeogue in Dublin had been unhappy with her appearance and that she had posted on her Instagram account the date on which she intended to die.

Milly was first referred to a private clinic and later to the HSE's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for clinical assessment. She died on January 4, 2016, the day before her first appointment with the service.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent this weekend confirming the proceedings, Mrs Tuomey's solicitor, Michael Finucane, said: "My clients are not focused on monetary damages but rather in exposing the flaws in the Irish healthcare system that contributed to their daughter Milly's death by suicide. The inquest into Milly's death was far too restrictive an exercise to achieve this to any meaningful extent."

A HSE spokesperson said: "We are not in a position to comment on any such legal matters."

Mrs Tuomey's legal action is likely to focus attention on the resourcing of mental health services for children and teenagers, which have been beset by staff shortages and long waiting lists. The children's charity Barnardo's last month called on the Government to "urgently address" the continuation of delays in children accessing mental health services.

The inquest was confined to examining the circumstances leading to Milly's death. However the coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, noted evidence that more resources were required for child and adolescent mental health services and recommended that more information and support should be provided to parents while they waited for their children to be seen.

Milly's tragic death by suicide at such a young age shocked the country after the details became public at her inquest.

The inquest heard how Fiona and Tim Tuomey sought help for Milly after her sister alerted them to an Instagram post in early November 2015 in which Milly said she intended to die on a certain date.

"When we discovered out of the blue that our child had told her friends on Instagram that she had chosen the day she would die, we couldn't believe it. We did not know what to do," Milly's parents said in a statement after the inquest. Mrs Tuomey took Milly to see the family GP. During this visit, Milly expressed thoughts of suicide and self-harm, and that she had been unhappy with her physical appearance for some time.

Her GP recommended she see a clinical psychologist at An Cuan, a private counselling and psychotherapy clinic in south Dublin. The Tuomeys made an appointment with An Cuan but were informed that the psychologist was no longer taking patients.

Milly was assigned instead to weekly sessions with an art therapist. The art therapist was not qualified to make clinical assessments, the inquest heard. After Milly's first visit, the therapist advised Milly's mother to make an appointment with CAHMS.

The Tuomeys arranged an appointment for January 30, 2016, which at that stage was two months away. When Mrs Tuomey found a suicide diary and medication under her daughter's bed, she got her daughter's appointment with CAMHS brought forward to January 5.

In the meantime, the family was advised to go to their local emergency department if they had any concerns over the Christmas period or outside of office hours.

On New Year's Day, 2016, the family had dinner and settled in to watch a film.

Milly said she was "bored" and left the room, her inquest heard. She was found a short time later by her older sister in a critical condition. She died three days later at Our Lady's Children's Hospital.

The Tuomeys went on The Late Late Show last month to highlight awareness of children's mental health and called on the Government to set up a dedicated suicide prevention authority.

"Milly was funny and mischievous and as her sister would say 'loud'. She was sporty, she had an abundance of talent. She played the piano, she loved to ice skate. She was skating up to competition standard. She spoke three languages fluently at 11. We would call her pretty special but she was a unique little character," Fiona Tuomey said.

She said Milly had "highs and lows" and at times was withdrawn, but that they did not know the signs. "People think of depression as a big glaring sign across somebody's forehead... That is not necessarily the case," she said.

Expert witnesses testified at Milly's inquest about the rise in mental health issues in children and of the need for more resources.

Dr Antoinette D'Alton, a psychiatrist, said suicidal ideation is increasing in children as young as seven. Professor Ella Arensman, of the National Suicide Research Foundation, told Milly's inquest that Ireland ranks fifth in Europe in cases of suicide in the 10-14 age group.

Last month Barnardo's highlighted the latest HSE figures which showed that in September 2017 there were 2,333 children waiting for mental health services and noted a "worrying" 20pc increase in the number of children waiting longer than one year for their first visit.

Mrs Tuomey is taking the case against the HSE, An Cuan Centre for Psychological Services, St John of God Community Services, a doctor and a therapist.

The Samaritans - Ph: 116 123 Pieta House - Ph: 01 601 0000

Sunday Independent

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