Calls for public inquiry into North East mental health trust after claims of alarming number of deaths

A charity and the families of loved ones who died under the care of Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust have called for a public inquiry into the trust.

Inquest, a charity which supports bereaved families whose relatives have died in mental health care settings says it is aware of 14 people who died between 2016 and 2020 whilst under the care of the Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust. 

It claims seven of the patients died in the community and seven whilst on inpatient wards at hospitals run by the trusts.

Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust is already subject to an independent investigation commissioned by NHS England into failings at the West Lane Hospital in Middlesbrough. 

West Lane which had three mental health inpatient wards for children and adolescents was shut down by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in August 2019. Inspectors found it to be 'inadequate' following the deaths of two patients. Christine Harnett, 17 died in June 2019 and Nadia Sharif who was also 17 died in August 2019. 

Nadia Sharif and Christie Harnett

Emily Moore, 18 from Shildon died in February 2020 at Lanchester Road Hospital in County Durham which is also run by Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Mental Health Trust. 

Her death is part of the independent investigation into West Lane, as Emily had previously been a patient there. 

Her father David says Emily took her own life and was critical of the care she received. He says the inquiry into West Lane does not go far enough.  

David Moore and Emily Moore

Viktor Scott-Brown, 23, took his own life in December 2018, three weeks after being prescribed a new medication for his suspected Bipolar disorder. He was also under the care of Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

Viktor Scott-Brown

A coroner ruled his death was avoidable. His family say he was failed by the trust on multiple levels. They have also welcomed calls for a public inquiry.

Claire and Nick Scott, Viktor Scott-Brown's parents

Viktor Scott-Brown's mother Claire added: ''For us to now accept that Viktor could have been here if he had been given the care he should have been given is extremely difficult to live with.

''I don’t feel they are fit for purpose. I’m scared that people who are currently under their care are not being given the correct care or treatment they are entitled to.''

Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust provide a range of mental health, learning disability and eating disorder services for people living in County Durham and Darlington, the Tees Valley and most of North Yorkshire. It has more than 7,500 staff.

Brent Kilmurray took over as the trust's Chief Executive in June 2020 following the retirement of Colin Martin. In March 2020 the trust was given an overall rating of ‘requires improvement by the Care Quality Commission.

Speaking in an interview with ITV News Tyne Tees, Mr Kilmurray said:

''Sadly as a consequence of the work that we do with some challenging and troubled individuals we sadly do see a number of deaths in our work, but as the people that regulate us, the Care Quality Commission tell us, we are not an outlier. 

''It means we are not unusual in the deaths that we see. We are a big organisation so looking at numbers isn’t actually very helpful when you are trying to compare these things. 

''We’re not seeing anything systematic. Obviously, there have been some individual failings that have been looked into and we are currently looking into but as far as we are concerned we’re not making those links and we are not seeing any systematic problems. 

''We’ve got some work to do. There have been some really difficult things that have happened, some really troubling things, sad things, tragedies that have occurred for families and our hearts go out to families. Each and everyone of those cases has been looked into.

''There are some clear changes that have been made. We’ve made some changes to care plans, risk assessments, to some of our ward routines and made investment in environments to make them safer for people. 

''I’ve had open conversations with David Moore, Emily’s father and Viktor's parents and I’ve got an open conversation with them at the moment. We are trying to work through some of their issues and some of their feedback and trying to move forward. 

''I’ve heard Mr Moore’s concerns and will await the outcome of the independent investigation into the tragic death of Emily. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment while this is ongoing.

''I don’t believe a systematic more broader investigation is indicated or justified. We look forward to trying to improve things as we move forward. 

The Care Quality Commission said the trust would be closely monitored following previous inspections. 

'Inadequate' West Lane mental health unit in Middlesbrough closed by authorities Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

A spokesperson for the NHS in the North East and Yorkshire said: “An independent investigation is ongoing, with findings due to be reported later this year.”

West Lane Hospital is due to reopen in April under new management. NHS England and NHS Improvement will commission Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) to initially provide up to a 10-bed general adolescent inpatient CAMHS service on a temporary basis.