Minister not ruling out public inquiry into mental health hospitals

‘We are seeing young people dying because of failings of care,’ admits minister Maria Caufield

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Thursday 03 November 2022 12:37 GMT
Maria Caulfield says we are seeing a “number of unacceptable cases” of poor care in mental health services
Maria Caulfield says we are seeing a “number of unacceptable cases” of poor care in mental health services

New health minister Maria Caufield said she will not rule out a public inquiry into safety across mental health hospitals as the government is pressured following a string of scandals.

Answering questions in the House of Commons Ms Caufield was pressed on the government’s response to a series of reports exposing systemic failings, abuse, and deaths within mental health hospitals, both private and NHS.

In response to a question from Labour shadow mental health minister Dr Rosena Allin Khan, Ms Caufield said: “On the issue of a public inquiry. I am not necessarily saying that there won’t be a public inquiry, but it needs to be on a national basis and not just on an individual trust basis.

“Because as we’ve seen in maternity very often when we repeat these, they produce the same information, and we need to learn systemically how to reduce these failings. The issue I have with public inquiries is they’re not timely. They can take many years, and we have clearly got some cases now which need some urgent review and some urgent action.”

She said she is considering whether a rapid review, as requested by Dr Allin-Khan could be more appropriate considering the time it takes for a public inquiry to conclude.

However, the minister said she is taking advice on both and would report next steps in the “coming days.”

She added: “I fully accept the failings that we are that are being laid bare here, whether it’s by media doing investigations or whether it’s by internal investigations from the individual trusts. I’m not shying away from those challenges. I’ve set out the urgency that and the Secretary of State [Steve Barclay] will be looking at this problem because I want to be satisfied across the country that the safety is as good as it can be… that does mean now, that doesn’t mean in 18 months, two years, three years’ time. I know we are seeing young people dying because of failings of care and I understand the situation.”

The comments come after investigations by The Independent and Sky News exposing “systemic abuse” within a private mental health provider The Huntercombe Group, and other reports into Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust, Essex University Partnership FT and on Wednesday a revealing how failures by Tees, Esk and Wear Valley FT led to the deaths of three girls.

There is currently a public inquiry into abuse at Northern Ireland hospital Mukamore Abbey, however, there has yet to be a public inquiry into mental health services in England.

The government commissioned an independent inquiry into services at Essex Partnership University Hospital FT. However, families who had loved ones harmed by failings at the trust are calling for it to be converted to a statutory public inquiry.

According to Ms Caufield NHS England has commissioned a “systemwide” investigation into hospital inpatient services. This is in relation to a letter sent by NHS England mental health director Claire Murdoch to NHS trusts asking them to urgently review their safety measures.

It is not clear whether this review will apply to private providers who account for 13 per cent of the money spent on mental health beds nationally.

Ms Caufield, who is also the patient safety minister, said she is “urgently” meeting Ms Murdoch and the patient safety commissioner Dr Henrietta Hughes to decide the next steps.

Dr Allin Khan said during questions: “Emily Moore, Nadia Sharif, Christy Harnett. These are the names of the three young women who tragically lost their lives and are the systemic failings to mitigate self-harm. This cannot go on…This is sadly not the only case. In the last five weeks, there have been reports on Huntercombe, Essex Partnership University Trust and the Edenfield Centre. Why do undercover reporters seem to have a better grip on the crisis than the government patients are dying, they’re being bullied dehumanised, and abused and their medical records are being falsified a scandalous breach of patient safety.”

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