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Campaigners’ Echo Chair’s Renewed Plea For Statutory Public Inquiry Into Essex Mental Health Care

Families campaigning for answers about Essex mental health failings that left relatives dead or harmed have backed a further push by Dr Geraldine Strathdee to upgrade the current proceedings to a statutory public inquiry.

Chair to the Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry, Dr Geraldine Strathdee, has published her latest letter to Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, stating in the clearest of terms that the inquiry requires a ‘statutory footing’ to effectively meet its terms of reference.

Dr Strathdee states, that despite her repeated calls for staff to come forward, only 30% have. Of the staff that have come forward around 75% of these are senior managers, lacking experience in working on wards, a key area of investigation for the inquiry.

Dr Strathdee states: “I have given some thought into how a statutory inquiry might address these challenges. I believe that a well-designed statutory inquiry must hear patient and family voices, staff voices, be investigative and be improvement focused. It must be thorough and produce robust recommendations for improvement in mental health services including rapid changes to keep people safe and prevent deaths. I believe that a well-designed, appropriately resourced, and focused statutory inquiry could be delivered effectively and efficiently. It is essential in this instance that solutions are identified without delay.”

The current Independent Inquiry (one that lacks any statutory powers) set up to investigate 1,500 deaths on Essex mental health wards between 2000 and 2020, continues to be rejected by families, with long-term campaigner Melanie Leahy branding it ‘toothless’.

The campaign attracted backers from across the spectrum, including Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen, leading autism researcher, Shadow Minister Rosena Allin-Khan, local MPs Priti Patel and John Whittingdale and more recently SANE, a leading mental health charity.

Melanie Leahy said: “It has taken nearly 11 years of painful and relentless campaigning for answers after the tragically preventable loss of my son Matthew Leahy whilst in a place of so-called safety. Over those years I have lost count of the other precious and loved people who have also died preventable deaths under the care of Essex Mental Health Services.

“And now Professor Strathdee has made it undeniably clear that she agrees that the present limited inquiry be converted to statutory status so that she can finally compel witnesses to speak and put patients and families at its centre.

“I personally challenge our government to tell me that conversion to statutory status is not an urgent need. Professor Strathdee voiced her extreme concern that there will be more tragedies as we wait and they are happening.

“No other family should ever have to lose a loved one in preventable circumstances. One more death is one too many. I and the other families will not rest until we have answers. Mr Barclay – what is taking so long?”

Nina Ali, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, representing the families, said: “It has long been clear that a statutory public inquiry is the only way to get to the bottom of the horrific standard of care provided to patients by mental health care services in Essex. Inquiries such as these are the only way in which lessons can be learnt for the future to ensure that no other families have to suffer the same fate. We will continue to work with the brave families from across Essex as they continue to call on the government to do the right thing. Their appointed chair, Dr Strathdee knows the inquiry must be upgraded – what is the government waiting for?”

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