Family of ‘intelligent’ son who died in NHS care join mum’s fight for inquiry
PUBLISHED: 09:28 26 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:33 26 August 2020
SUPPLIED BY FAMILY
A Suffolk couple whose son died within hours of being admitted to a mental health unit are among more than a dozen families joining a mother’s fight for an inquiry into a string of patient deaths.
Robert and Linda Wade, from Sudbury, lost their son Richard in May 2015 when he attended the Linden Centre, Chelmsford, after becoming depressed.
The 30-year-old, who took his own life within 12 hours of admission, had been deemed ‘low risk’. An inquest jury found in 2017 that the state failed to protect him.
Now his parents say the only way they will have answers is through a public inquiry, the fight for which is being led by Essex mum Melanie Leahy whose son Matthew died at the same unit, run by the former North Essex Partnership (NEP), in 2012.
So far, 15 families have responded to her call to action.
The NEP merged with mental health services in southern Essex to form the Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT) in 2017, and bosses at the new organisation say £2.4million has been spent on safety improvements since then. Health chiefs extended their “deepest condolences” to relatives of patients who died in the former NEP’s care.
But Mr Wade said: “The only way we can get to the truth is through a full, open inquiry, so people can be brought onto the stand and made to answer the questions.
“Only then, can the corrections be made to prevent people from suffering as we have done.”
Richard, described by his family as an “intelligent” man, had studied economics, political science and history at university before landing a job in the city, moving to Chelmsford from the family home.
It was then that he began suffering with depression, which led to him calling police in Suffolk one evening expressing a desire to harm himself.
One of the hardest things the family has had to come to terms with, his mother said, is that Richard died at a place where he was meant to get help and protection.
He went there voluntarily. The inquest jury ruled he died after staff failed to remove a ligature which he used to take his own life.
‘Clear and basic failings’
Last year, a petition launched by Mrs Leahy for a public inquiry examining her son’s death garnered 100,000 signatures but health minister Nadine Dorries said such a probe would be unlikely to take place into her son’s circumstances alone.
At just 20 years old, Mrs Leahy’s son Matthew was found dead within eight days of being at the Linden Centre in November 2012.
Admitted with a diagnosis with delusional disorder, three days in Matthew reported being raped during the night and he was found unresponsive in his room five days later.
A damning report by the health ombudsman into his care found 19 instances of serious failings, while an inquest jury ruled his death was contributed to by a “catalogue of failings” by the former North Essex Partnership NHS trust (NEP).
An Essex Police probe into corporate manslaughter, investigating 25 deaths at mental health facilities run by the NEP was dropped in 2018.
Officers found “clear and basic failings” but said these did not meet the threshold for a corporate manslaughter charge.
The following year, Mrs Leahy took her inquiry fight to Westminster and it is now being extended to all families of patients who have died across all Essex mental health services, including child, adolescent, adult, elderly, veterans and prison services.
An EPUT spokesman said: “From the first day we established EPUT in April 2017 our top priority has been to continuously improve patient safety.
“We have an ongoing programme of improvements so that we can provide the best possible care for our patients.
“We are cooperating fully with ongoing investigations into the care of patients under the former NEP.”
The trust also acknowledges in its latest board papers that there were nine deaths requiring a serious incident investigation between January and March of this year.
A Department of Health spokesman added: “The safety of all patients receiving psychiatric care is paramount and any death is a tragedy.
“Taking account of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s investigation into the NEP and any related activity we will set out our plans in due course for a robust and independent process that will scrutinise individual cases as well as gathering together the learning from which all of the NHS can benefit.”
The HSE is continuing to investigate how the NEP monitored environments in its mental health units, dating back to 2004.
‘They deserve help’
Amanda Cook, from Tiptree, lost her 19-year-old brother Glenn Holmes in 2012. The health ombudsman found some NEP failings in its care for Mr Holmes, who died of an accidental overdose a week after being discharged from The Lakes in Colchester. Mrs Cook said she had “lost hope” when the corporate manslaughter probe was dropped but feels this new fight may be more successful.
“My brother’s not here now, but a public inquiry might help others like him,” she said.
“They deserve the help that my brother did not get but so desperately wanted.
“It needs someone independent to look into this. If you have people on the outside looking in, it might become clearer what needs to change.”
Former Colchester resident Martha Hulme, whose daughter Marion Gaskell died in 2013, has also joined Mrs Leahy’s cause.
MORE: Mum’s petition hits 100k signatures despite General Election setback
Mrs Leahy, who met with families at a memorial and demonstration aimed at raising awareness last weekend, said relatives are continuing to come forward.
She expects the numbers to rise further, and is urging people to get in touch via the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If we can find out what’s been going wrong in Essex over the decades, changes here will help make changes happen across the nation,” she added.
Bosses at the Department of Health added that any unexpected death in mental health care should be reported directly to the CQC, with the trust involved carrying out a “full and robust” investigation.
They also said a new NHS safety programme is being rolled out to “eliminate” suicide in mental health inpatient services.
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