Mental health conditions are an affliction that can affect anyone at any time. With that uncertainty comes a belief that if you should suffer, the care you receive will be top-tier. The Essex Mental Health Inquiry was commissioned to investigate claims that for some patients this did not happen. Here is a rundown of events that have transpired so far.

What is the Essex Mental Health Inquiry?

Records show that 2,000 people have died whilst in the care of Essex Mental Health Services or within three months after they were discharged. This was around 500 people more than was originally reported.

An independent inquiry, the Essex Mental Health Enquiry, was established by the government to cover a 21-year period from 1st January 2000 to 31st December 2020 and look into the circumstances around these deaths and the care plans provided.

When and why was it launched?

Nadine Dorries launched the inquiry in January 2021 on a non-statutory basis after concerns around the quality and safety of mental health services within the Essex trusts. This followed a 2019 ombudsman investigation into the deaths of Matthew Leahy and another unnamed man which found numerous failings by the organisation.

The committee was initially tasked with investigating the deaths of 1500 patients, including children. However, the committee chair Dr Geraldine Strathdee said that the identified number was actually closer to 2000.

What has happened since the inquiry was launched?

After a lengthy investigation, the committee is still reviewing the evidence it has been provided, but some steps forward have been made.

In 2022 Dr Strathdee said that there have been three recurring failings within Essex partnership university NHS foundation trust (EPUT). The first has been identified as concerns around patients’ safety on a ward, including their mental, physical and sexual safety. She also identified a difference in the care received between individual patients. Finally, the communication with patients and their families was not up to standard regarding their treatments and potential length of stay.

The EPUT has also been fined £1.5 million in June 2021 concerning 11 deaths. This included that of Steve Oxten where ligatures were found to have been used that contributed to his death whilst on the ward. As part of patient safety, there should not have been such points available to patients without supervision.

Are there any criticisms?

Some have criticised the inquiry. As the enquiry was commissioned as non-statutory it is unable to compel witnesses to give evidence or attend. Given the seriousness of the accusations, bereaved families of the victims believe it should be converted into a statutory inquiry and given those powers.

There have also been issues with the length of the inquiry. Originally the final report was meant to be published in Spring 2023, however, this has been pushed back due to the amount of evidence that has been received and the challenges in obtaining evidence from members of staff who were employed and working for the trusts within the period being investigated.