An inquiry looking into the deaths of patients under the care of the NHS trusts in Essex has said it has been made aware of around 1,500 individuals who died while they were a patient on a mental health ward in Essex or within three months of being discharged.
The Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry, which will examine the period from 2000 to 2020, is the first public inquiry to be commissioned by a government minister. It was set up after a number of high profile cases where people died under the care of the county’s mental health teams when they should have been looked after.
Some of the families of people who died have refused to participate because they want a statutory public inquiry, which would force those involved to give evidence. This includes Melanie Leahy who has campaigned tirelessly for a proper review of the area’s services since her son Mathew Leahy was found hanged at the Linden Centre mental health unit in 2012.
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Ahead of the inquiry ramping up its evidence collection, its chair, Dr Geraldine Strathdee, has called on these families and any others who are affected to participate in the inquiry. So far the inquiry has spoken to 14 families and is keen to speak to more.
“I hugely personally admire the campaign groups whose work has led to this inquiry been established,” she said to MyLondon. “What I’m saying to them is, please, please come forward. It is your information, knowledge, ideas and very practical expertise in what needs to change and what needs to improve that we really need.”
She claimed that the inquiry would have the power to deliver powerful results, despite campaign groups representing over 50 families branding it “toothless.” Dr Strathdee said that she wouldn’t have gotten involved in something that wasn’t going to deliver meaningful change.
“I don’t have a track record of someone who just does roles for the sake of it,” she said. “My track record is I do roles to objectively identify things that need to change and what are the levers for change that can also be identified and what can be learnt. We want to understand what can we learn from Essex.”
East Londoners accessing mental health services affected
Although the inquiry is focused on the NHS trusts in Essex, many Londoners have been affected by the issues it will tackle. In areas, like Havering and Redbridge, which border Essex, residents often have had interactions with mental health services in the county as well as the local borough. MyLondon is aware of at least one case where a patient died having spent time under the care of both Essex and their local borough. Dr Strathdee said that the inquiry was open to families of people who’d died under these circumstances.
Campaign groups, however, remain sceptical about the inquiry, Selen Cavcav, a senior caseworker at Inquest, a charity that has represented many of the victims, said: “We continue to believe that only an inquiry with more teeth, namely a statutory public inquiry, will restore trust and ensure the broad ranging scrutiny needed to tackle the unacceptable death toll of people under the care of Essex mental health services.
“Previous critical inquests, inspections and investigations of these services have failed to compel the transformation in culture and leadership that is clearly needed in Essex. This speaks not only to the issues locally but to a national lack of accountability, scrutiny and oversight of deaths in mental health settings and the issues they uncover.
“We already know this inquiry will find failures, most of which will not come as a surprise to many bereaved families or survivors who have long fought for the truth. The value of this inquiry as it stands can only be judged by its impact in creating change. That change is long overdue.”
When MyLondon asked Dr Strathdee how the inquiry would build trust with people who’ve been let down by authorities the chair said: “My message to them is, please come and talk to us talk to we have a great team. We’re very, very happy to talk through how we’re doing this inquiry, how we’re taking evidence. If you want to give us evidence verbally or face to face, you want to write us information. We want to hear it. We are committed to making improvements.”
Has your relative in London died whilst in the care of mental health services? [email protected]