Rishi Sunak refuses to commit to meeting families of those failed by NHS trust

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak failed to give assurances that he would meet the families of those who died in the care of Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has failed to give assurances that he will meet the families of those who died in the care of a mental health trust following calls from one of his constituents for a public inquiry.

Mr Sunak was facing questions about the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, which this week admitted to failing in the care of two young women.

The trust pleaded guilty to two charges relating to the deaths of Christie Harnett, 17, from Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, and an unnamed patient, who took their own lives in its hospitals.

Denying a further charge, the trust is due to stand trial over the death of 18-year-old Emily Moore, from Shildon, County Durham, who took her own life at Lanchester Road Hospital, near Durham, in 2020.

Speaking to ITV Tyne Tees on Thursday 28 September, Mr Sunak did not commit to holding a public inquiry or to meeting the families of those who have been failed by the trust.

He said: "I meet people all the time, the most important thing I can do as Prime Minister is ensure that a) we invest properly in the NHS.

"I come from an NHS family and that's why we put record sums into it, weeks after I became Prime Minister.

"In particular on mental health making sure that it gets the recognition and importance that it deserves, and we're also doing that too."

One of Mr Sunak's constituents Zoe Zaremba took her life after the Tees Esk and Wear Valley Trust wrongly diagnosed her with a personality disorder, and discharged Ms Zaremba from hospital with no clear follow up plan.

In February, the Prime Minister sent a letter to the Health Secretary raising her families calls for a public enquiry, but nothing has been commissioned as yet.

Mr Sunak said: "First of all, my thoughts are with the families who have been impacted by this.

"It's a very distressing situation and it's right that they are properly looked at, and that's what is currently happening at the trust, it's right's that they're going through it. I can't obviously comment whilst that is going on, because it's right that we let that conclude.

"More generally what I can say is we're putting more funding in mental health services, and they're increasing as a percentage of the overall NHS budget and making sure that mental health teams across the country get the investment they need and we can roll them out in more places."

In response to Mr Sunak's answer, Ms Zaremba's mother said money "isn't going to the right place" and said a public inquiry was needed to get "to the root cause of the problem".

Christie's grandmother Casey Tremain said: "I feel that the prime minister is making excuses not to meet us - that we're not important enough."

Speaking on 26 September, a spokesperson for Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said: "We can’t begin to imagine just how difficult this is for the families and loved ones involved.

"We hope you can appreciate that we can’t comment further due to ongoing legal proceedings.” 

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