A bereaved father’s labour of love to help others

Joanne Bingley and her husband Chris. PA
Joanne Bingley and her husband Chris. PA
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A year ago, Chris Bingley set up a foundation in his wife’s memory to change the treatment of women with post natal depression. Catherine Scott met him.

It is nearly two years since Chris Bingley was one of the happiest men on the planet.

His beloved wife Joe, a nurse, had just given birth to their much longed-for baby daughter, Emily, after a number of problems including miscarriage.

But just ten weeks later Joe was dead, having become so desperate she threw herself under a train, leaving Chris a widower and Emily without a mum. Her bereaved husband has been fighting for justice ever since, adamant that not enough was done by the mental health services to save his wife, who was suffering from severe postnatal depression.

“There have been guidelines and legislation in place for years for the treatment of women suffering from post natal depression, but they were not followed in Joe’s case and I have now discovred that 50 per cent of Trusts across the country are acting unlawfully in their treatment of PND.”

An inquest into Joe’s death in November backed up Chris’s claims.

The coroner found that a number of guidelines were not followed including the need for informed consent which could have led to Joe being hospitalised as she asked and could have avoided her death in April 2010.

The coroner recorded a narrative verdict and now the Care Quality Commission has confirmed it is to inspect the crisis team responsible for looking after Joe.

But Chris, from Huddersfield, wants to take things further. He has asked West Yorkshire Police and the Health and Safety Executive to investigate the unlawful treatment of his wife and he is also seeking a judicial review.

The nearly two-year battle has taken its toll emotionally as well as financially.

He could now lose his and Emily’s home as he is falling behind on mortgage repayments as he has been unable to work properly since his wife’s death.

Also his determination to ensure that all Trusts follow the legislation in treating women with postnatal depression and stop the current postcode lottery, has caused difficulties with both his and Joe’s families.

“It is very difficult and I want it over and done with as quickly as possible,” says Chris. “But I am only doing what any father would do. Because Joe had a history of postnatal depresssion there is double the risk that Emily will suffer it too if she has children.

“That may still only be six per cent chance, but the problem is if she does suffer from it the treatment just isn’t there. I have lost my wife I do not want to lose my daughter. I wasn’t strong enough for Joe but I refuse to give up on Emily. Also to know that so many Trusts up and down the country are acting unlawfully means I cannot leave it alone.

“Joe was a dedicated nurse and she would want to make sure that the NHS was doing every thing that it should be.”

A recent survey by the Patients’ Association found that 50 per cent of Mental Health Trusts were failing as Primary Care Trusts were not comissioning specialist mental heath care services.

The Care Quality Commission itself has found that 20 per cent of maternity services were acting unlawfully, putting potentially 22,000 new mothers at risk.

“I don’t think that I am asking for much and it doesn’t have to be complicated or cost much,” says Chris.

“I just want patients and their husbands or partners to be given information so they can recognise what is happening and know what to do about it and also to know what the services should be doing about it. I also want to make sure that the mental health trusts are made to follow the guidelines.”

Chris was so shocked by the lack of information given to new parents that a year ago with the help of a group of friends and colleagues he set up the Joanne (Joe) Bingley Memorial Foundation, launched to co-incide with what would have been Joe’s 40th birthday.

One of the first things the Foundation did was to print information leaflets. “It didn’t take much – probably a pound and to think that for a pound my wife’s life might have been saved.”

Much of the work done in the first 12 months of the charity has gone into establishing its key strategies, building the infrastructure and establishing the networks for future growth and delivery.

“I am very proud of the Foundation and what we have achieved,” says Chris.

“My experience in business is that if you don’t achieve what you neeed to in the first two years then you won’t achieve it. What we have done in 12 months has been remarkable.”

One of his proudest achievements is the Foundation being one of the founding member of the newly established Maternal Mental Health Alliance. An organisation made up of MPs, doctors, specialist nurses all the major medical colleges and more than 30 UK charities.

“We now have a single voice to go to parliament. I don’t like to use the word lobby as that is just talk; I want action.”

The MMHA will also co-ordinate research into PND.

“We want to make sure that best practise is offered across the country. If the NHS cannot afford to do it then there are some really well-operated networks out there they just need to be integrated across the entire country. It is time to stop talking and get moving.”

In the next year he also wants to see the Foundation expand and is looking for volunteers.

“We are looking at best practise across the country – there is no point reinventing the wheel. We would like to offer drop-in and telephone help lines. We need to raise around £100,000 over the next year to do that but we believe it is achieveable.”

And while her father battles for justice and to improve services for women with PND across the country, little Emily is oblivious to all this.

“I will tell her one day, but not yet,” says Chris. Emily will be two next month and is a constant reminder of Joe.

“It is hard for Joe’s family in particular. Emily looks so much like Joe did at her age.

“She is great, pretty much a normal two-year-old with all the terrible twos. But 95 per cent of the time she is adorable; the other five per cent of the time she looks at you and knows she has done wrong.

“The naughty step just doesn’t work with Emily. But if you put her favourite toy on the naughty step then it does.”

In many ways Chris is like any father trying to do the best for his young daughter, while still grieving for his wife.

Although he has met someone else, he admits that he struggles to deal with these emotions and is seeking counselling to help.

“I have met someone else who is lovely and wonderful, but I still love my wife – how do you deal with that? She has to watch me cry everyday for Joe and that cannot be easy. I am strong for Emily during the day but when she goes to bed at night I do cry.”

He says he has been asked to write a book about his story, but says not yet. The story is not finished.

“If I do write about it then it will be for Emily, for her to know what a wonderful person her mother was.” He is also happy to talk to anyone affected by postnatal depression.

“People say I am inspirational. I do not see that but if I can help people by talking about my experience than I am happy.”

Chris Bingley will be on the Liz Green show on BBC Radio Leeds between 12pm and 4pm today.

Joe Bingley memorial foundation

In the last year the Foundation has:

Launched the website – www.joebingleymemorial foundation.org.uk

Produced information leaflets and foldout cards

Officially been recognised as a charity on April 30, 2011, one year after Joe’s death

Delivered training workshops and presentations

Formed a national umbrella group, the Maternal Mental Health Alliance

Built links with Parliament and the Care Quality Commission (CQC)

Hit year one target of £20,000, created a pipeline for future fundraising.