Minister announces probe into deaths at mental health unit

Deaths over a seven-year period at a mental health unit will be subject to an independent review, a health minister has announced.

Edward Argar said the Government intends to commission the investigation into “serious questions” raised by a “series of tragic deaths” at the Linden Centre in Chelmsford, Essex.

Families of patients who have died have been petitioning for a public inquiry.

MP portraits
MP portraits

Mr Argar added it is hoped “lessons learnt” can benefit care across the NHS “as quickly as possible”, with the Department of Health also working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to ensure the review does not prejudice ongoing legal action.

The HSE last month announced action was being taken against Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust following an investigation into North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (NEPUFT).

It investigated how NEPUFT managed risks from “fixed potential ligature points in its inpatient wards” between October 2004 and March 2015, with the first hearing due to take place on November 12 at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Argar said: “(Health minister Nadine Dorries) has given careful consideration to the failures in care at the former North Essex Partnership Trust and, on her behalf, I am announcing today that (Ms Dorries) 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.”

Conservative MP James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) earlier raised the death of Richard Wade, 30, as he led a Commons debate in which he raised questions about the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC’s) handling of the case.

He said: “On the evening of May 16 2015, Richard called the police as he was suffering from poor mental health and feared he would hurt himself.

“The police assessed him and decided the best course of action would be to admit him to the Linden Centre in Chelmsford to ensure his safety.

“I emphasise that Richard voluntarily called for assistance, he was not sectioned and he was admitted to the Linden Centre on the basis that it would provide a place of care.

“Just over 12 hours later he was found to have attempted suicide by use of a ligature.

“Richard was transferred to the Broomfield Hospital next door, received treatment in the intensive care unit and passed away on May 21 2015.”

MP portraits
MP portraits

He added: “I’m very much aware this is not the only death that has occurred by ligature at the Linden Centre, Chelmsford.

“There are a number of cases with circumstances not dissimilar to those of Richard Wade’s.”

Replying to the debate, Mr Argar said: “I have noted the CQC’s review into the handling of these matters.

“However, the CQC states that it decided not to use criminal enforcement powers to prosecute the trust.

“They state this decision was taken after liaison with the Health and Safety Executive and Essex Police, instead using civil enforcement powers against the trust after Mr Wade’s death.

“They further state there was insufficient evidence to proceed to criminal enforcement as they state the evidence indicated that breaches were committed by a series of individuals whose action lay outside CQC’s prosecuting powers.”

Mr Argar said the CQC has “unreservedly apologised” to Mr Wade’s family for the handling of the case.

More than 105,000 signatures were collected in support of a petition for a public inquiry into the death of 20-year-old Matthew Leahy, who was found hanged at the Linden Centre in November 2012.

In 2018, Essex Police dropped an investigation into up to 25 deaths of patients who were in the care of NEPUFT, at nine separate establishments, since 2000.

Investigators found “clear and basic failings” in care but insufficient evidence for corporate manslaughter charges.

The investigation began after allegations about Mr Leahy’s death.

North Essex Partnership University Trust merged with South Essex Partnership University Trust in April 2017, and the body is now called Essex Partnership University Trust.