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Families whose relatives died at the Linden Centre in Chelmsford have received the backing of a Labour MP who has called on the Government to “do what is right” and establish a statutory public inquiry.
The families of 67 individuals who died or were severely mistreated while in the care of mental health services in Essex had their most recent plea for a statutory inquiry dismissed by Nadine Dorries – Minister of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety.
Ms Dorries said an independent non-statutory inquiry into Essex mental health services will be led by Doctor Geraldine Strathdee.
In March, the families raised concern over Ms Dorries’ chosen chair for the inquiry – Dr Strathdee – who has held a leadership role in relation to NHS and CQC services provided across England, including Essex.
The families suggested that it is not appropriate to have the NHS investigating itself, nor is it independent of the NHS’ interests.
MP for Ilford South Sam Tarry has also questioned Dr Strathdee as a suitable chair. He said: “Your appointment to lead the inquiry – without the families being consulted – of Dr Strathdee, a consultant psychiatrist and former national clinical director for mental health at NHS England until 2016, has raised doubts that Dr Strathdee can be truly independent.”
Mr Tarry added: “Each death was preventable and arose from systemic failures in the provision of mental health care services in Essex.”
Mr Tarry says he wants to see the establishment of a Statutory Public Inquiry, “a truly independent expert” as chair and scope of the inquiry to expand the whole Essex area.
He said: “As a Government Minister, you owe this to these families, who have suffered so much, and to the country.
“Those who are in the care of mental health services should not fear being abused or being neglected by incompetent or ruthless actors, surely a scarce minority in our extraordinary NHS system, but still present.”
Among those fighting for a statutory inquiry is Melanie Leahy, who lost her son Matthew in 2012 while he was under the care of the Linden Centre.
Her petition to request a Statutory Public Inquiry garnered more than 105,500 signatures in support, leading to a parliamentary debate last November.
A letter sent last month from the Government’s head of public inquiries, reviews and litigation team to Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors, who represent the families, said the Government stands by Dr Strathdee conducting the inquiry.
It read: “The Minister does not consider that any of the matters raised in your correspondence give rise to any arguable appearance of bias.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care previously said: “Every death in a mental health facility is a tragedy, which is why we have launched an independent Inquiry into inpatient mental health deaths across the whole of Essex between 2000 and 2020.
“Dr Geraldine Strathdee CBE took up the role as chair of the independent Inquiry in January and will work to set out the full terms of reference before formally beginning the inquiry in April.
“It is vitally important we learn from these events in order to benefit care across the wider NHS and protect patients in the future.”