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Government announces investigation into mental health care | UK News

The health secretary has announced an investigation into mental health in-patient services across the country.

It comes after a series of investigations by Sky News highlighting failings within the system.

Steve Barclay said the Health and Safety Investigation Branch would look into the care of young people, examine staffing levels and scrutinise the quality of care within units.

In October 2022, our investigation into five hospitals run by The Huntercombe Group revealed repeated allegations of over-restraint and inadequate staffing, which left people at increased risk of self-harm.

And in May 2023, Sky News exposed safety risks within Wotton Lawn Mental Health Unit, an NHS service in Gloucester, where patients had got on the roof or absconded, and staff were photographed asleep on the job.

In a victory for campaigners, Steve Barclay has also increased the powers of an existing inquiry looking into the deaths of 2,000 patients in mental health care in Essex between 2000 and 2020.

Many campaigners had refused to take part in the inquiry until it was given statutory powers, claiming it would never be able to get to the truth without the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.

Recently the Chair of the inquiry, Dr Geraldine Strathdee, complained that staff members had refused to take part in the investigation, saying “30% of named staff, those essential witnesses involved in deaths we are investigating, have agreed to attend evidence sessions”.

“In my assessment, I cannot properly investigate matters with this level of engagement,” she added.

Mr Barclay said: “I agree with Dr Strathdee that we have now reached the point where the only appropriate course of action is to give the inquiry statutory powers.

“Statutory inquiries do take longer, but this doesn’t mean we start from scratch.”

Dr Strathdee has told the health secretary she will be standing aside “due to personal reasons”. Work to find a new chair is “proceeding at pace”.

Initially, around 1,500 deaths were being investigated based on figures from Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT).

All died while in a mental health ward in Essex or within three months of leaving.

Earlier this year, it was confirmed this figure was closer to 2,000.

Mr Barclay said: “We recognise that patients and families want to know how their concerns will be taken forward as soon as possible.

“I also recognise that a wide-ranging statutory inquiry for other settings or across multiple patient safety issues would not deliver these answers quickly.

“That’s why my department has agreed to work alongside the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch to prepare the launch of a national investigation into mental health inpatient services.

“This will commence in October when it receives new powers under the Health and Care Act.

“The new health services safety investigation body will investigate the following themes: how providers learn from deaths in their care and use this learning to improve services, including post-discharge; how young people are cared for in mental health inpatient settings and how this can be improved; how out-of-area placements are handled; and how to develop a safe staffing model for all mental health inpatient services.”

Dr Strathdee said she “wholeheartedly” welcomed the news the Essex inquiry will have statutory status.

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She said in a statement: “I am confident that statutory status will allow the inquiry to deliver a full and robust report and make recommendations that will lead to much needed improvements.

“While I remain dedicated to the cause of the inquiry, I have taken the very difficult decision to hand over the role of chair. In my view the next stage of the inquiry’s work requires a chair who is available for the entire forward duration of a statutory inquiry. Due to personal health reasons, I have decided with my family, that this cannot be me.”

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