Essex mental health inquiry given power to force witness testimony

An inquiry into the deaths of mental health inpatients in Essex will become statutory after the government responded to criticisms from victims’ families that the process lacked teeth.

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.

a wooden judge's hammer sitting on top of a table

Dr Geraldine Strathdee was appointed chair of the non-statutory inquiry and, following her advice, the government has confirmed it will be converted to a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.

The inquiry had run into difficulties trying to secure testimony from current and former 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 to give evidence, including those former and current staff of EPUT.

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.’

Barclay also announced that in October a new Health Services Safety Investigations Body will be formally established and will begin 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.

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.’

Evidence and views for the rapid review were taken from over 300 experts in mental health inpatient pathways, including people with recent personal experience of using – or caring for someone who uses – mental health care services. It made recommendations to help improve the way data and evidence is used to monitor safety and improve care so patients and their carers can feel confident in the quality of treatment they’re receiving.

The government will issue a response to the recommendations from the rapid review in due course.

Both the rapid review and Essex inquiry have been chaired by Dr Strathdee, who has announced she will step down as chair of the inquiry for personal reasons. A new chair will be announced in due course.

Image: Wesley Tingey


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top