Over 50 Families affected by ‘calamitous’ failings of NHS mental healthcare services in Essex reject Government offer of ‘toothless’ independent inquiry
Posted on: 2nd December 2020
Renewed calls stress the importance of a Statutory Public Inquiry into the deaths, abuse, and exploitation of patients under the care of Essex mental health services
Families of patients failed by mental health services in Essex are writing to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Nadine Dorries, Minister of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety, to express their disappointment with the offer of an independent inquiry into events at the Linden Centre over a 20 year period.
The inquiry was announced yesterday at the end of a Westminster Hall debate and stopped far short of the families’ call for a full Statutory Public Inquiry into failings of mental health care in Essex. The proposed inquiry’s focus in to the Linden Centre alone, has also been criticised as lacking in scope, as it will not have the mandate to investigate broader failings in Essex mental health services. The debate was held in response to a successful petition organised by Melanie Leahy, which attracted more than 105,000 signatures.
Melanie began her campaign in response to ‘calamitous failings’ in NHS Mental Health Services in Essex, after countless ‘tick-box’ reviews into the death of her son, Matthew, that yielded no explanations, nor learnings to improve care. Matthew died while under the care of NHS Mental Health Care Services in Essex aged just 20.
Melanie Leahy said: “The proposed inquiry is toothless. It will not have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath, like a Statutory Public Inquiry would, and will be chaired by a Government-picked ‘expert’. Having campaigned for so long to get a parliamentary debate, I refuse to be fobbed off by this half-hearted response. All along, the other families and I have stated that a full Statutory Public Inquiry is the only way to get answers – it is shameful that the Government should offer anything less in an attempt to sweep this under the carpet.
“Not only are we all upset by the proposed inquiry, but we are also concerned that it is being packaged up like a Trojan horse to make it look like something else, and to fool families into welcoming it. This attitude will not work. The Minister suggested this was the best way to investigate as it was the quickest – not the most effective, just the quickest.
We demand answers that will not just provide justice for our loved ones, but also provide vital learning to make sure no other families go through our pain. We will not be ignored. In writing to Boris Johnson, I hope he will hear our calls, understand the importance and critical need for a Statutory Public Inquiry.
The Government have a real chance to change their course and commit to improving mental health services, not just within the Linden Centre but across the county of Essex. We question again as to why they can’t see that?”
Melanie’s son Matthew, who had been experiencing mental health problems, was admitted to the Linden Centre, Chelmsford on 7 November 2012, for ‘care and treatment’, and to ensure his safety. During his stay, Matthew contacted Essex Police begging for help. Eight years on, Melanie Leahy has acquired a recording of Matthew’s call to the emergency services: Matthew is heard telling the call operator that he has been raped, that he is bleeding, that he needs medical attention, and that doctors are ignoring him. On 15 November 2012, just 7 days later, Matthew was found hanging in his room. Matthew was taken to Broomfield hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was just 20 years old. Since the start of her campaign, Melanie has been joined by more than 50 other families whose loved ones were also badly failed by NHS Mental Health Services in Essex.
An inquest revealed that there had been multiple failings in the care given to Matthew at the Linden Centre by the North Essex Partnership University Trust (NEP). However, the inquest did not get to the bottom of what had happened and how it was possible for a young man to have died in this way, while in the care of ‘professionals’.
Melanie is supported by her legal team Nina Ali and Priya Singh of Hodge Jones & Allen. INQUEST, a charity that provides expert advice and information following state-related deaths, is also supporting the campaign.
Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: “Essex mental health services ignored dangerous practices that led to preventable deaths. If it were not for the dedication and persistence of bereaved families to get to the truth, these failings would never have come to light. The minister owes it to these families, who have already been repeatedly failed by the state, to meet their calls for proper scrutiny through a statutory public inquiry. Anything less will be viewed as another attempt to deflect accountability.”
Nina Ali, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors, emphasized the importance of a Statutory Public Inquiry: “Melanie and other families have fought too hard to be fobbed off with yet another investigation that we all know will simply be a repeat of all it’s pointless predecessors”
Priya Singh Associate at HJA added: “We are calling on the Government to make the right choice, and establish a proper statutory inquiry. If they are serious about improving mental health care, then the starting point must be to ensure that those responsible are obliged to attend and compelled to give their evidence on oath, and the only way to do that is via a statutory public inquiry”