Saturday, June 15, 2024

Essex mental health deaths inquiry given legal powers

AN inquiry investigating deaths of mental health patients in Essex has been given extra powers, in a victory for campaigners reports the BBC.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay told Parliament that the probe would be placed on a statutory footing.

It means the inquiry can force witnesses to give evidence, including former staff who have previously worked for services within the county.

Mr Barclay said he was committed to getting answers for the families.

He told the Commons: “I hope today’s announcement will come as some comfort to the brave families who have done so much to raise awareness.”

The Secretary of State added that under the new powers anyone refusing to give evidence could be fined.

Melanie Leahy, whose son Matthew died while an inpatient at the Linden Centre in Chelmsford in 2012, is among those who have long campaigned for the inquiry to be upgraded.

“Today’s announcement marks the start of the next chapter in our mission to find out how our loved ones could be so badly failed by those who were meant to care for them,” said Ms Leahy.

“I welcome today’s long overdue government announcement and I look forward to working with the inquiry team as they look to shape their terms of reference.”

The independent inquiry was launched in 2021 to examine the deaths of people who had been patients of Essex’s mental health services between 2000 to 2020.

In December last year, the inquiry’s chair, Dr Geraldine Strathdee, said she had received information identifying up to 2,000 people who may have died.

This figure has been disputed by the current provider of mental health services, the Essex Partnership University NHS Trust (EPUT).

Dr Strathdee also wrote to the health secretary earlier this year calling for more powers because not enough former staff had come forward to give evidence.

She said less than 30%, whom she described as “essential witnesses”, had agreed to attend evidence sessions.

Welcoming the government’s announcement, she said: “I am confident that statutory status will allow the inquiry to deliver a full and robust report and make recommendations that will lead to much needed improvements.”

Dr Strathdee also announced she was stepping down as chair due to health reasons.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said the alleged failings that led to the inquiry were not confined to Essex.

She said: “This inquiry is the country’s largest investigation into mental health services and the findings will not be unique to Essex. It should act as a catalyst in improving mental health care and propel a revolution in culture.”

Solicitor Priya Singh, whose firm Hodge, Jones and Allan represents 85 families of patients, said: “It will mean for those families who have lost loved ones… they will now have answers. That is important for the families and it is also important to prevent future deaths.”

In a statement, Paul Scott, chief executive of Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT), said: “We remain committed to supporting the inquiry, whatever form it takes, now and in the future so that families, carers and service users receive the answers they rightly deserve.”

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest

More articles