May 30, 2024

Essex mental health deaths inquiry urges public to participate

  • By Stuart Woodward & Mariam Issimdar
  • BBC News, Essex

Image caption, Baroness Kate Lampard, who is leading the probe, said the inquiry will be “focused”

The chair of a public inquiry looking into the deaths of about 2,000 mental health patients has invited applications from core participants.

The inquiry will investigate the deaths of people who received mental health inpatient care in Essex between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2023.

A core participant is a person or entity with a significant interest in the inquiry.

Chair Baroness Kate Lampard said the inquiry will be “focused”.

The scope of the investigation would include people who died within three months of discharge, and those who died as inpatients receiving NHS-funded care in the independent sector.

Baroness Lampard invited applications from those with a significant interest in the matters being investigated, such as Essex-based families of mental health inpatients who have died, current and former mental health staff, and organisations providing inpatient services.

She said she was “committed to carrying out thorough investigations which are appropriately focused and proportionate”.

The terms of reference of the Lampard Inquiry were published on 10 April.

The Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry was established in 2021 but was given statutory footing last year, which means it has legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.

“I would urge them to come forward of their own volition,” said Baroness Lampard.

“This time if they do not come forward, but we believe they have evidence that we wish to hear, then obviously we have powers to compel them.”

She added that she hoped to not have to use her powers to make “referrals for consideration for proceedings of contempt”.

The inquiry does not have the power to make criminal or civil liability findings, but Baroness Lampard said she was determined to get to the bottom of how so many patients were failed by the mental health system.

Designated core participants would be able to suggest lines of questioning for witnesses, and make opening or closing statements.

They could also receive disclosure of evidence.

Baroness Lampard began work as part of the inquiry in November, but has yet to hear any evidence.

Image caption, Lisa Bates with her daughter, Tillie-Anne King, who she said was failed by the local mental health system

Others such as Lisa Bates have called for the inquiry to go further and include mental health deaths within the community. Ms Bates found the body of her daughter, Tillie-Anne King, 21, from Brentwood, in her bedroom.

Ms Bates said: “I handed her over to the services that were meant to know best, and they failed her.

“We need justice, for our children, because if there’s no justice they’ll be no changes. It’s a tragedy that should never have happened.”

Image source, Stuart Woodward/BBC

Image caption, Melanie Leahy has been trying to find out why her 20-year-old son died from hanging at a mental health unit in 2012

“We don’t need this rushed. We need a thorough investigation,” she said.

“We need every death included, otherwise it’s just going to be pointless. [It needs to take] as long as it takes to bring about the meaningful changes needed to save lives.”

Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, which is in charge of mental health services in the county, said it would cooperate with the inquiry “to provide the answers that patients, families and carers deserve”.

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