An investigation into a “series of tragic deaths” over a seven-year period at a mental health unit offers no confidence, a mother of one of the people who died under its care has said.
Melanie Leahy, whose son Matthew died at the Linden Centre aged 20 after being detained in November 2012 under the Mental Health Act, says the independent review will be lacking teeth without any power to bring new evidence to light.
The government has said health minister Nadine Dorries intends to commission an independent review over “failures in care” between 2008 and 2015 at the Linden Centre in Chelmsford.
Instead Mrs Leahy wants full disclosure, with the inquiry having the powers to force people to take the stand under oath.
Mr Leahy, who three days after being admitted into the Linden Centre, reported he had been drugged and raped. Four days later he was found hanged in his room.
Since Melanie launched her campaign for a public inquiry earlier this year, a total of 24 families have come forward to tell their stories of appalling patient abuse – including stories of rape and patients being set on fire – suffered under the care of psychiatric services across Essex.
In a debate brought to the House of Commons by Conservative South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge into the death of Richard Wade, 30, in May 2015 after being admitted to the centre, health minister Edward Agar said: “I am very much aware, as is my honourable friend the member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries), of the petition from families of patients who have died while under the care of NHS services in the Essex area, calling for a public inquiry into the deaths. I completely understand that they have concerns that they want to have heard in public.
“They want answers, and they want to know what happened. My honourable friend the member for Mid Bedfordshire has given careful consideration to the failures in care at the former North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.
“On her behalf, I am announcing today that she has set out her intention to commission an independent review into the serious questions raised by a series of tragic deaths of patients at the Linden Centre between 2008 and 2015.”
But Mrs Leahy said: “The review being offered, offers me no confidence and fails to incorporate all the failed families now on board.
“Please be very clear we are not just talking about negligent care here but active systemic and ongoing neglect and abuse of the vulnerable.”
She added: “The current pandemic will inevitably have led to a deterioration in mental health services so there is even more urgency to address the issues.
“There have been a number of so called investigations to date – all of them fragmented, piecemeal and ultimately a whitewash which have achieved nothing.
“The only forum for a proper and comprehensive investigation is a public and statutory inquiry and this is the only forum everyone – organisations as well as individuals – can be called to account and the one they will be obliged to attend, but also obliged to give evidence under oath.
“I moved forward with multiple failed families to achieve our goal – the truth.”
Her bid for a public inquiry will be debated in parliament next month nonetheless, with her petition calling for a public inquiry reaching more than 105,000 signatures.
Mrs Leahy met with MP Catherine McKinnell, chairman of the Parliamentary Petitions Committee on Thursday, September 24, to discuss her petition calling for a Statutory Public Inquiry into the death of her son.
An open letter to the Parliamentary Petition Committee sets out stories of horrific abuse and neglect by Essex mental health services.
The letter, written by Mrs Leahy following her meeting, calls upon the government to prioritise the debate as a matter of urgency to avoid the future deaths of individuals, and reiterates the ongoing campaign for a public inquiry into the deaths and abuse of multiple past victims while in the care of Essex mental health services.
Since Mrs Leahy launched her campaign for a public inquiry earlier this year, a total of 24 families have come forward to tell their stories of appalling patient abuse suffered under the care of psychiatric services across Essex.
The search for additional families continues, with Mrs Leahy and the team behind the campaign encouraging those who have lost loved ones either to inpatient or community deaths, or individuals themselves who have been failed and survived, to make themselves known.
She said: “Whether it was under NEP, South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (SEPT), or Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, whether the victim is young or old, it matters not.
“What matters is that we unite together to get answers and force change for the better. Other lives depend on it.
“The accounts of abuse collected so far span many years. We are not talking about negligent care here, but active, systemic and ongoing gross neglect and abuse of the vulnerable.
“There is something insidious and rotten in Essex mental health care, both across its inpatient facilities and in care being provided in the community, and it must be exposed and stopped.”
Hodge Jones and Allen solicitors, the London-based social justice law firm, is leading the legal campaign for a public inquiry with Mrs Leahy.
Nina Ali, partner at Hodge Jones and Allen, said: “Let me be very clear – there is evidence of ongoing exploitation and abuse within Essex mental health services which have led to unexplained deaths, people taking their own lives, and injured parties traumatised for life.”
Priya Singh, associate at Hodge Jones and Allen, added: “There have been investigations in the past, but they have been piecemeal and fragmented – the system has not changed one bit.
“We are pushing for a public inquiry because it’s our firm belief that only with the combined voices of these families will those responsible be held to account.”
Mrs Leahy’s letter comes as the Health and Safety Executive, Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety, launches its own prosecution against the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust – formed of a merger between North Essex Partnership Trust (NEP) and South Essex Partnership Trust (SEPT) in 2017 – for how NEP managed environmental risks from fixed potential ligature points in its inpatient wards between October 25, 2004 and March 31, 2015.
In Mrs Leahy’s fight she has gained support from Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles South; Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth; Home Secretary Priti Patel; and politician and retired MP Sir Norman Lamb, among others.
The Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman, Rob Brehens, has also ordered a government review into Mr Leahy’s case.
In a letter to Mrs Leahy, Priti Patel said: “The case of Matthew Leahy, and other patients at the former North Essex Partnership University NHS Trust, shows how tragedy can follow when care is not only poor but when serious errors and neglect takes place.
“I fully sympathise with the hurt, pain and distress the families feel.
“I commend the steely determination of Melanie Leahy and all the other families who have been campaigning on this issue in tragic circumstances and I know that they are disappointed with the outcome of previous investigations.
“Questions about the trust’s care of vulnerable patients remain unanswered and I support Mrs Leahy’s call for a public inquiry into this case.”
In a separate parliamentary debate on Friday (October 16) entitled ‘Care Quality Commission handling of deaths in mental health facilities’, James Cartlidge MP will set out a “tragic” constituency case also related to the Linden Centre.
EPUT was approached for comment.