Many people will experience mental health problems in their lives. Around 1 in 6 adults in England will have a common mental health disorder, and around half of these problems start by the age of 14. In 2011, the government set out long-term ambitions to improve support and services for people with mental health disorders, part of this improvement comes from recommendations made following inquiries into patient services. One of these recent inquiries has been into mental health inpatient care in the Essex University Partnership Trust. 

The Essex University Partnership Trust Inquiry

An independent inquiry into the deaths of almost 2,000 mental health patients across NHS trusts in Essex is to be given legal powers. The Essex mental health independent inquiry was established on a non-statutory basis in January 2021 amid concern about the quality and safety of mental health in Essex and after a 2019 investigation by the parliamentary and health service ombudsman that found numerous failings in the events surrounding the deaths of mental health inpatients between 2000 and 2020.

What does it mean for the inquiry to become statutory?

Due to the challenges faced while running an independent inquiry, giving it legal powers means witnesses are compelled to give evidence. The witnesses included in this are former and current staff at the Essex Partnership University Trust who are now required to provide evidence for the inquiry. By making the inquiry statutory, the government are continuing to push forward with actions to improve patient safety.

Prior to the inquiry becoming statutory, less than 30% of essential witnesses had agreed to attend evidence sessions, according to the Chair Dr Strathdee.

What has the Inquiry Found so far?

Last year, it was stated that three recurring failures had been identified by EPUT, which were serious concerns about patients’ physical, mental and sexual safety while on a ward, including claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. There were also big differences in the quality of care patients received, both in terms of staff attitudes and in the use of effective treatments”. Patients and their families were also given too little information about their treatment regarding the length of stay and chances of recovery.

What Other Reviews are Happening in Mental Health Services?

Findings from a recent independent rapid review into mental health inpatient settings have recently been published. The rapid review looks at data on mental health inpatient settings and was commissioned by ministers. Findings provide recommendations to improve the way data and information is used in relation to patient safety in mental health inpatient care settings and pathways.

There will be recommendations made from the rapid-fire review and the Essex inpatient inquiry which the government will respond to in due course.

The rapid review and Essex inquiry have been chaired by Dr Geraldine Strathdee, who has announced she will step down as chair of the inquiry for personal reasons. A new chair will be announced to continue the inquiry and deliver information gathered from it.

Other Government Measures to Improve Mental Health Services

These inquiries come alongside £2.3 billion extra being invested a year until 2024 into the expansion and transformation of mental health services in England so that 2 million more people can access crucial NHS-funded mental health support.

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Many people will experience mental health problems in their lives. This government update looks at some of the long-term government aims to improve mental health services and the recent Essex mental heath statutory inquiry.

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