An inquiry into the deaths of mental health inpatients in Essex will become statutory, as the government presses ahead with action to improve patient safety and boost the quality of mental health care in England.
The Essex mental health independent inquiry was announced in January 2021 to investigate matters surrounding the deaths of mental health inpatients across NHS trusts in Essex between 2000 and 2020. Dr Geraldine Strathdee was appointed chair of the non-statutory inquiry and, following her advice, the government has confirmed today that it will be converted to a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.
Due to the challenges faced while running an independent inquiry – such as engaging former and current staff at the Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT), and in securing evidence from the trust itself – a statutory inquiry will have legal powers to compel witnesses, including those former and current staff of EPUT, to give evidence.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: Everyone receiving care in a mental health facility should feel safe and be confident they’re receiving world-class treatment.
We take any failure to do so seriously and that’s why the Essex inquiry was launched and I’m now taking further action to give it the necessary legal powers, to help improve inpatient safety and learn the lessons of the past.
I’d like to thank all those involved for their work on this inquiry so far, particularly Dr Strathdee for chairing it. I remain determined to transform and improve mental health care and will continue working to ensure people right across the country receive the care they need.
The Secretary of State has further announced that in October a new Health Services Safety Investigations Body will be formally established and will commence a national investigation into mental health inpatient care settings. It will investigate a range of issues, including how young people with mental health needs can be better cared for, how providers can learn from tragic deaths that take place in their care, how out-of-area placements are handled, and how staffing models can be improved.
The recommendations from this far-reaching investigation will help service providers to improve safety standards in mental health facilities across the country.
Separately, findings of an independent rapid review into mental health inpatient settings have also been published by the government today (28 June 2023).
As part of the government’s commitment to ensuring patients are safe and receive high quality care, the rapid review was set up to explore how government can improve the way data and evidence – including complaints, feedback and whistleblowing alerts – is used to identify risks to patient safety in mental health inpatient settings.
Minister for Mental Health Maria Caulfield said: “It’s only right mental health care facilities meet the highest safety standards and that patients have faith in the care they receive.”
“The publication of the rapid review recognises the importance of transparency and accountability as we continue to improve mental health services across the country.”
“Our ongoing work in response to the review will help trusts and facilities identify ways to improve and ensure every patient receives safe, exemplary care.”
The government says it will issue a response to the recommendations from the rapid review in due course.
This comes alongside the £2.3 billion extra being invested a year until 2024 into the expansion and transformation of mental health services in England, so that 2 million more people can access crucial NHS-funded mental health support.