A major inquiry into up to 2,000 mental health deaths could be extended amid promises to grieving families that "lessons will be learnt".
Baroness Kate Lampard, newly-appointed chair of the Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry, was setting out her ambition for the statutory investigation into mental health deaths from 2000 until 31 December 2023.
It was previously looking at evidence from 2000 until 2020.
Speaking at the Civic Centre in Chelmsford, Baroness Lampard said: "I'm focused on ensuring that concerns raised are addressed so that for the future there are mental health services in Essex that provide patients with the care and treatment they deserve.
"There is an element of ensuring that lessons are learnt not just for Essex but for other parts of the country who may look at what has gone on in Essex.
"There are a lot of families who have a lot of very serious questions and concerns and they've waited a long time to find out what happened and why it happened.
"I would hope that we would be able to offer them some comfort so issues they are worried about are addressed and that others will not have the same concerns."
She added evidence had been brought to light by families who had "concerns about the circumstances in which their loved ones have died" and "some issues of serious failings in the provision of services".
Baroness Lampard added the number of cases and amount of evidence under review by the inquiry was a "challenge" and it was important people had confidence in services.
ITV News Anglia looks at the history of the inquiry.
When was the inquiry launched?
The Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry was set up in January 2021.
It was the first public inquiry into mental health held in England.
Why was the inquiry launched?
It was initially started to look into the deaths of around 1,500 people while they were a patient on an NHS mental health ward in Essex, or within three months of being discharged, between 2000 and 2020.
That figure was based on information from Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT).
But in January 2023, the number of deaths being reviewed as part of the inquiry was increased to 2,000.
An open letter from the then-chair of the inquiry, written at the time, said: "I am concerned that it has taken two years since this inquiry was announced to be informed about these individuals’ deaths by the trust."
How has the inquiry changed?
In June this year it received more robust statutory powers from Health Secretary Steve Barclay, meaning witnesses have to legally give evidence.
Baroness Lampard was also announced as new chair of the inquiry in September this year.
She said evidence would be collected in a proportionate way but with the right amount of rigour and urgency.
The new chair urged current and former staff from Essex mental health services to come forward, adding the inquiry would use the legal powers, provided under statutory inquiry procedure, to get them to give evidence if they did not come forward voluntarily.
She also hoped to include evidence from NHS patients being cared for by private providers.
Baroness Lampard added families were welcome to take part in the inquiry but did not legally have to.
What happens next?
A public consultation has been launched before the inquiry's draft terms and reference details are decided on.
These will form the basis of the statutory inquiry.
The consultation will close on 28 November this year.
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