Calls grow for public inquiry into mental health care failings after three teenagers took their own lives

The Department of Health and Social Care is to decide in the “coming days” whether it will announce a public inquiry into care and safety failings within inpatient mental health units.

The minister for mental health, Maria Caulfield MP, has said the government is "urgently" looking into the "whole" of the inpatient mental health system and not just the isolated cases raised in recent investigations and media coverage.

The minister was responding to an urgent question by Labour's shadow minister for mental health, Rosena Allin-Khan MP, after a report on Wednesday found major care failures in the deaths of three teenage girls at an NHS mental health trust.

Seventeen-year-old Christie Harnett, Nadia Sharif, also 17, and 18-year-old Emily Moore, who had all been diagnosed with complex mental health needs, took their own lives between June 2019 and February 2020 while under the care of Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

It also comes a week after a Sky News investigation revealed disturbing testimonies from more than 20 former patients from children's mental health units previously run by The Huntercombe Group.

Ms Caulfield said: "I'm not just the minister for mental health, but also for patient safety. And I am not satisfied that the failings we have heard about today are necessarily isolated incidents at a handful of trusts.

"Myself and the secretary of state are urgently meeting the national director of mental health to look at the system as a whole to look at the role of the CQC inspections and the system for flagging concerns.

"I will also be meeting the new patient safety commissioner to seek her guidance and based on that we'll make a decision on how to proceed in the coming days."

She went on to say that any public inquiry would need to be on a "national basis" but was concerned that such an inquiry "can take many years" and the cases highlighted "needs some urgent review and some urgent action" now.

Labour's Rosena Allin-Khan MP described the issue as a "scandal" and the government should be "ashamed".

There have been growing calls for a public inquiry into inpatient mental health with charities and organisations calling on the Department of Health and Social Care to look into safety failings.

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Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST, said: "Sadly, these are not isolated incidents, locally or nationally.

"INQUEST is calling for the government to urgently commission a statutory independent inquiry into deaths and serious incidents in mental health services, to ensure learning, action and accountability."

Paul Spencer, head of health, policy and campaigns for the mental health charity Mind, described the Sky News and The Independent's investigation into The Huntercombe Group as "deeply concerning" and the concerns need to be addressed "immediately".

He said: "We need to see reforms to mental health care across England to make sure people are getting the help they need and are being treated with dignity and respect."