Call for public inquiry into mental health trust

Posted: 31st January 2024

A leading councillor has called on the government to launch a public inquiry into an under-pressure mental health trust.

The chairman of the Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Fran Whymark, said there were “enduring concerns” over “ongoing safety” at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

Last year, an independent report by the audit firm Grant Thornton found that NSFT had lost track of figures for patient deaths.

NSFT said a “significant amount of work” had been undertaken and “progress is being made”.

Image caption,

Fran Whymark, chairman of Norfolk’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, has written to the government

Mr Whymark said the NFST and integrated care boards (ICBs) had accepted a number of recommendations, however the pace of delivery had been “frustrating” and “disappointing”.

He has written to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Victoria Atkins, calling for a statutory public inquiry.

Public inquiries are major investigations, external that provide legal powers to compel witnesses to testify and release other forms of evidence.

“The lack of progress and improvement in the area of mortality continues to frustrate scrutiny members,” said Mr Whymark, a Conservative county and district councillor.

“It is essential that a clear plan delivers real change now, one that can offer better help for people experiencing mental health difficulties, supported by robust audit processes.”

‘Enduring challenges’

The Grant Thornton Mortality Review last summer, which was edited to remove criticism of leadership, found the number of patient deaths noted in public documents such as board reports did not match internal figures at the NSFT.

Of 11,379 deaths of people in contact with the trust over the previous five years, the exact number that could have been deemed avoidable was unknown.

The trust insisted most were in the community and not related to poor care.

However, the review found the cause of death had not been established in more than three quarters of those cases.

Mr Whymark said he remained concerned about the continuing quality of NSFT services and that he wanted to see the Care Quality Commission prioritise a re-inspection of the trust, which is currently rated as ‘requires improvement’, external.

His letter added: “As you are no doubt aware, Norfolk residents face significant and enduring challenges when attempting to access mental health services.”

NSFT said it was working with the local ICBs, external to provide “support to ensure the recommendations and associated actions are completed”.

“There has been a significant amount of work undertaken since the action plan was published and progress is being made,” a spokesperson added.

The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment.

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