Family of late Donegal musician reach settlement with HSE

May 19, 2021

The family of a promising 24-year-old Donegal Musician who took his own life in February 2016 had the terms of settlement of an action against the HSE approved by Judge Kevin Cross in the High Court today.

The action was settled without an admission of liability from the HSE.

Sean and Loren Rea form Carndonagh had taken a case against the HSE alleging negligence in the way Alec had been treated by the HSE.

Alec suffered with depression from the age of 16 until his death. In the autumn of 2015, Alec and his father attended a song-writing festival on the Aran Islands.

Alec like his father, was an especially talented songwriter and musician. While there, he met with a leading music producer who invited him to record in Los Angeles, with a view to signing a record deal. Alec was understandably ecstatic.

However, upon his return home to Donegal, Alec developed a deep depression. He suddenly lost all interest in music and spent most of his days sleeping and isolating from his family.

Mrs. Rea became so worried she sought an appointment for Alec to attend with a Consultant Psychiatrist.

After an assessment, Alec was given new medication. Mrs. Rea saw an immediate negative effect from Alec taking this new medication. His personality became very dark and he refused to talk to anybody. He stopped playing music altogether. He openly admitted being afraid that he would commit suicide.

Mr and Mrs Rea sought an emergency appointment for Alec on the 5th of January 2016. A doctor told them that he thought it would be best for Alec to be admitted to the Mental Health Unit in Letterkenny University Hospital for a full psychiatric assessment and treatment.

They were happy to hear this. When a senior doctor arrived to the consultation to approve the admission, Alec was asked if he was suicidal or if he was currently drinking or taking drugs. However, the senior doctor overruled the decision to admit Alec and instead recommended that he attend WorkLink, a training and employment scheme for people who have experienced mental health difficulties.

Following this meeting, Alec’s mental health continued to decline rapidly. On one occasion at 4 am in mid-January, Mr and Mrs. Rea found Alec on the floor of their bedroom with crippling anxiety. He felt extremely unwell and was desperate for help.

The next morning, on 19th January 2016, Mrs. Rea telephoned the doctor who had turned down the admission and begged that Alec be admitted as she was afraid he could commit suicide. Mrs. Rea was told that a Community Mental Health Nurse would call to their residence to assess Alec in the coming days. However, no member of the Mental Health Team called out to carry out the assessment.

Mrs. Rea continued to telephone the Mental Health Service on an almost daily basis requesting urgent help for Alec. On each occasion, she reiterated the family’s grave concern that Alec would commit suicide if he was not assessed and treated soon. An outpatient appointment was arranged for the 2nd of February 2016, but on the morning of the appointment, it was cancelled. No alternative date was provided.

On Wednesday, 3rd of February 2016 Alec was found by his brother in a collapsed state. Attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful. Alec was pronounced dead at 4.34 p.m. on 3rd of February 2016. Too late, the new appointment date of 9th of February 2016 arrived in the post a few days after Alec’s death.

An Inquest was held into Alec’s death and evidence was given that on the 22nd January 2016, a HSE employee made a handwritten note of a conversation with Mrs Rea, where it was reported that Alec was suicidal. The note read “Alex (sic) suicidal” and was jotted down on an A4 sheet. The Consultant stated at the inquest, that they were not notified of this phone call at the time and the note went unseen. The Consultant stated at the inquest that the Mental Health Service has since put in place, procedures to ensure that this does not happen again.

In a statement issued through the family’s solicitor, Johan Verbruggen of Callan Tansey Solicitors, Galway: “Alec was an exceptionally talented young musician who had been offered a record deal with a famous American producer. Despite all of the adventure and excitement such a deal promised, Alec struggled with his mental health and his pleas for help went unanswered”.

Today’s settlement gives Alec’s family recognition of what happened, but they want the message to go out: those with mental health difficulties should urgently get the help and support they need, families should be listened to, and safeguards ought to be put in place to ensure adequate follow up.