WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 01 2023
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO

Inquiry into 2,000 mental health patient deaths stalls due to lack of staff evidence

Inquiry into 2,000 mental health patient deaths stalls due to lack of staff evidence

Justice in a time of austerity: a Justice Gap series

The Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry is investigating the deaths of inpatients under the care of NHS mental health services in Essex between 2000 and 2020. However, it cannot continue without being given legal powers and has been delayed due to lack of staff evidence, says Inquiry Chair.

The number of deaths was thought to be 1,500 but is now said to be ‘closer to 2,000’. Dr Geraldine Strathdee, the Inquiry Chair, said she is ‘concerned’ about this ‘significant increase’ as it took two years since the Inquiry was announced for these further deaths to come to light.

Despite these worrying figures and accounts of insufficient care provided by the Essex Partnership University Trust, there seems to be an unwillingness from staff to give evidence for the Inquiry. Dr Strathdee’s open letter states:

‘Of the over 14,000 staff written to (…) only 11 have said they would attend an evidence session’, which is ‘hugely disappointing’. She adds, ‘of those involved in the cases of deceased patients we are investigating, 1 in 4 have responded to say they will provide evidence.’

As a result, this independent review, which is the first public inquiry into mental health of its kind in England, ‘will not be able to meet its Terms of Reference with a non-statutory status’, where staff have the choice to contribute or not. 93 bereaved families have been campaigning for a ‘full public inquiry with legal powers to compel witnesses’.

Dr Strathdee highlights the experiences of the bereaved families who have provided ‘hugely valuable’ evidence and recommendations, often at a ‘personal cost’ to them, in order to ‘prevent the same heartache in others’. The families say that a full statutory inquiry is ‘the only way the affected families will achieve justice for their loved ones’.

The Essex NHS Trust, which has been the subject of a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation, has already been fined £1.5 million over 11 preventable deaths between 2004 and 2015.

Dr Strathdee writes that she is ‘confident’ the Secretary of State for Health, Steve Barclay, is treating her concerns about the Inquiry ‘seriously’. However, the families continue to wait for answers as the Inquiry has been delayed further and is no longer ‘publishing in spring 2023’.

Julia Hopper, mother of deceased Chris Nota, says that the country is at a ‘crossroads’, and the government must conduct a public inquiry to show that ‘thousands of highly questionable, preventable deaths are no longer secretly ok’.