Calls for criminal investigation into over 8,000 mental health deaths in Norfolk and Suffolk

  • There is anger over more than 8,000 mental health deaths at an NHS trust, as Katie Ridley reports

Campaigners are calling for a criminal investigation into a mental health trust over "the biggest deaths crisis in the history of the NHS".

Around 8,440 patients have died within a three-and-a-half year period since April 2019, while under the care of (or in the months after the care of) Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, an independent report found.

A campaign group is now urging police to step in, saying there has been "deafening silence" from the trust since the report was published in May.

“This is the biggest deaths crisis in the history of the NHS," said Mark Harrison, chair of the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk.

"The police are being asked to act because all other options to save the lives of people in mental distress have failed.

"We are being failed by all parts of the system that are meant to be there to protect us.” 

The total of 8,440 deaths includes those from natural causes and not all were due to poor care - though auditors have previously highlighted the trust's inadequate record-keeping when categorising deaths.

In 2022, family and friends hung tributes for loved ones who died under care of Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust Credit: ITV Anglia

The group has written to the chief constables of Norfolk and Suffolk to consider whether the evidence "meets the threshold for any corporate manslaughter prosecutions".

He said the trust is "institutionally dysfunctional and has to be broken up".

The group has also written to MPs, NHS England, the Department for Health and Social Care, ministers and the watchdog the Care Quality Commission.

Norfolk and Suffolk police said they were "assessing" the letter.

The trust has been rated "inadequate" by the Care Quality Commission four times in the last eight years. Earlier this year, it moved to an improved rating of "requires improvement".

The independent report earlier this year described the trust's mortality data as unclear, inconsistent, and incomplete.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust said: "We offer our sincere condolences to all families and carers of people affected.

"We can assure all families and carers that we are working really hard to learn from these incidents and do our very best to ensure they are minimised in future."

Sheila Preston hangs a tribute for her son Leo, who died in 2016 after the community team supporting him was cut. Credit: ITV Anglia

The trust said it was working to change its culture and had already made progress.

It said it had a new "experienced" chief executive, Caroline Donovan, who has a "background of improving patient care and achieving 'outstanding' status".

The trust has been tackling "historical challenges of people feeling worried about speaking out", it added.

Another key priority is making sure staff are "being compassionate to people", "showing respect" and "providing good care".

The trust is also working on "communication, waiting times, medicines management and record keeping".

It said it could take three to five years for all the improvements to happen, and to be rated "good" or "outstanding".

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