Deaths in Mental Health Care

Philip Hollobone Excerpts
Monday 30th November 2020

(10 months, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department of Health and Social Care
Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley
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There is much that needs to change, but the hon. Member is right that that is one aspect of it. The mental health estate is known for being run down and out of date.

The learning of lessons has not happened in the Linden Centre or in mental health services in Essex. The charity INQUEST has worked on more than 28 cases involving deaths in mental health settings in Essex since 2013, yet despite the many investigations, reports and inquests that have highlighted failures, preventable deaths have continued. At the Linden Centre, INQUEST is aware of six in-patients found hanging between 2004 and 2019. Despite repeated inspections and visits by the Care Quality Commission, people have continued to die in those services.

The ombudsman’s report found clear signs of a cover-up at the Linden Centre. As Melanie told me:

“Matthew had no key worker. Records of observation levels and when he had been observed were changed. His care plan was falsified after he died. His claims of rape were ignored. Lots of documents were missing and a whole catalogue of policy failings were uncovered.”

That speaks of a culture that is less interested in learning from failings than in avoiding the blame for Matthew’s death.

The only way to restore trust in our mental health services is to publicly demonstrate that all those issues, including the one that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, are considered and addressed. Melanie Leahy has suggested that the only way to do that is through a full public inquiry. At the inquest into Matthew’s death, the coroner asked the NHS trust to consider commissioning an independent inquiry.

The ombudsman, in his recommendation, said that the review due to be held by NHS Improvement,

“should consider whether the broader evidence it sees suggests that a public inquiry is necessary.”

In an interview on ITV, the ombudsman went further on the failings, including about Matthew’s care plan being altered after he died and his claim of rape not being investigated. He described them as

“a catalogue of failings which are entirely unacceptable.”

He also said that he would fully support a public inquiry if one was recommended, and that he would like to have investigated further if he had had the powers.

Both public officials who have investigated Matthew’s death, the coroner and the ombudsman, have said that they would support a public inquiry. I ask the Minister, on behalf of Melanie Leahy, to set up a public inquiry. Only a public inquiry will have the transparency and broad participation needed to rebuild trust in the services. The Minister will know that that is the only way that witnesses can be compelled to give evidence without seeking to apportion blame, and evidence must be given on oath.

As Melanie has said,

“Since Matthew’s death I have been on a mission to get to the truth of what happened to Matthew and to get justice for him. On my journey I have not only found that many other families are in the same position as me, but also individuals who have the survived the quotes ‘care’ that they received.”

In this most tragic case, inadequate and neglectful care led to the death of a young man like Matthew. His mother has had to take on a fight over many years to get to the truth. I thank all the families and parents such as Melanie Leahy who have put so much of themselves into their campaign. I return to what she said to me:

“To say the current situation is not good enough is a massive understatement. We know what has to change and we have known for decades. What will make the Government take real action? How many times do we need to hear the same information and recommendations? How many more Matthews have to die?”

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hartlepool on the wonderful way in which he opened the debate and the two preceding speakers on their powerful contributions. I rise to speak on behalf of my constituent, Mrs Marian Coles, who was alerted to the debate and contacted me. I want my speech simply to be what she has written to me, to place her concerns on the record. Mrs Coles said:

“I am writing regarding the Westminster Hall debate concerning deaths in mental health care which calls for independent investigations into deaths in mental health settings. As a family that has been personally affected by this after our son took his own life whilst a mental health inpatient in Kettering in May 2017, we would ask if you would represent us at this debate. This was the second suicide at this facility 7 months apart. Staff failings were admitted at the inquest and 3 nurses were disciplined but they refused to give us the details. It has taken us 3 years for the NHS to settle this case.

We were involved with the serious incident report that took place but strongly support an independent inquiry being held after such deaths as is allowed in other organisations. Why should an organisation investigate itself over a death that may have been caused or contributed to by failures of its own staff or systems? The lack of an independent inquiry hampers the ability to root out issues of system neglect or misconduct and also jeopardises the welfare of future patients by failing to address such concerns. There is overwhelming evidence that the current system for investigating deaths in mental health settings is not fit for purpose.

“We very much hope that you will be able to take part in the debate and offer your support”—

I do—

“for an independent inquiry for families that may be affected by these tragedies. I am deeply traumatised by the death of my son, as is all of my family and we have to live with this every day of our lives”.

It is a privilege for me, as the local MP, to place Mrs Marian Coles’s concerns on the record.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. The circumstances of the debate are truly heartbreaking. I begin by extending my condolences to the family of the late Matthew Leahy and all families who have lost loved ones with mental illness at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them and care for them.

For many decades, mental health has not received enough attention or funding in comparison with physical illness. I draw attention to the mental health unit in Lewisham, which has already been viewed as not being fit for purpose—it was not built for people who have mental health problems—yet funding has never materialised for the changes needed to make it suitable for people with mental health problems. With the pressures of the pandemic, medical professionals are reporting more and more that people are suffering with mental illness due to economic hardship or loneliness, so it is clear there will be greater demand for mental health services over the next few years. It is imperative that we have well-functioning and well-funded mental health services to prevent needless deaths of the most vulnerable who are in need of those services. Medical professionals, the police and everybody around them also need support to be able to care for people with mental health illnesses. They need training, supervision and, most of all, not to be overworked. They also need to be able to debrief when they find things difficult.

I would like to raise the case of the late Kevin Clarke, from my constituency of Lewisham East, who sadly died following a mental health relapse. My condolences go out to his family, who are still bereft from the loss of Kevin, who, despite not posing an immediate threat to anyone, was handcuffed and placed in a leg restraint while telling the police that he could not breathe. In October, an inquest concluded that the officer’s restraint and supervision towards Kevin were excessive and sadly contributed to his death. However, the police were not the only professionals involved in his care. Other professionals were also in contact with him prior to this tragic incident.

A strategy of care needs to be in place for all mental health patients, one in which patients are listened to and family members are involved, so that loved ones can talk about preventative measures and their concerns, as well as contribute to the care plans that are needed. Mental health doctors, mental health nurses, social workers and care staff all need to work collaboratively with all professionals involved in keeping the most vulnerable people safe and secure, and to prevent these fatal, awful incidents of suicide or types of restraints leading to death. Change needs to happen.