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Ministers may order inquiry or review over English mental health care failings | mental health

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Ministers may order a public inquiry into mental health care and patient deaths across England because of the number of scandals that are emerging involving poor treatment.

Maria Caulfield, the minister for mental health, told MPs on Thursday that she and the health secretary, Steve Barclay, were considering whether to launch an inquiry because the same failings were occurring so often in so many different parts of the country.

They would make a final decision “in the coming days”, she said in the House of Commons, responding to an urgent question tabled by her Labor shadow, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan.

An independent investigation found this week that that three teenage girls – Christie Harnett, 17, Nadia Sharif, 17, and Emily Moore, 18 – took their own lives within the space of eight months after receiving inadequate care from the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys (TEWV) NHS mental health trust in north-east England.

They died after “multifaceted and systemic failings” by the trust, especially at its West Lane hospital in Middlesbrough, the inquiry found.

Allin-Khan pointed to a series of scandals that have come to light, often through media investigations, about dangerously substandard mental health care being provided by NHS services and also private firms in England, including in Essex and in Greater Manchester.

“Patients are dying, being bullied, dehumanized, abused and their medical records are being falsified, a scandalous breach of patient safety,” Allin-Khan said. “The government has failed to learn from past failings.”

Caulfield acknowledged that the failings at TEWV were not a one-off and that other recent scandals meant ministers and the NHS urgently needed to know how deep-seated poor care was.

“I am not satisfied that the failings we’ve heard about today are necessarily isolated incidents at a handful of trusts,” she said. Caulfield said she would imminently meet Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s clinical director for mental health, and Dr Henrietta Hughes, the recently appointed patient safety commissioner, to help agree on what to do.

NHS England had recently instigated a “system-wide investigation into the safety and quality of [mental health] services across the board”, especially child and adolescent mental health services, the minister said.

Caulfield told MPs: “On the issue of a public inquiry, I am not necessarily saying 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 [scandals involving NHS] maternity [care]very often when we repeat these inquiries, they produce the same information and we need to learn systematically about how to reduce these failings.”

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She added: “The issue I have with a public inquiry is that they’re not timely, they can take many years, and we’ve clearly got some cases now which need some urgent review and some urgent action”.

Ministers may commission a “rapid review” rather than a public inquiry, in order to produce evidence and recommendations for action more quickly, Caulfield added.

Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, a charity that helps families of people who have died while receiving NHS mental health care, said the government should order a “full and fearless” public inquiry as a matter of urgency as a prelude to ordering sweeping changes .

“Bereaved families are all too familiar with hearing about new reviews or investigations. Previous critical inquests, inspections and investigations of mental health services have failed to compel the transformation in culture and leadership that is needed,” she said.

“It is our view, and the view of many of the bereaved families we work with, that a national, statutory inquiry should be established to facilitate a full and fearless examination of the issues across mental health services which are leading to neglect, abuse and deaths. Nothing less will suffice.”

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