Bereaved families protest for public inquiry into North East NHS mental health trust

  • Watch Katie Cole's report

Families who have lost a loved one to suicide have held a protest outside an NHS Trust calling for a public inquiry into its actions.

Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust recently admitted to failing in the care of two young women who took their own lives after being prosecuted by the Care Quality Commission.

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 died in its hospitals but will stand trial over the death of 18-year-old Emily Moore, from Shildon, County Durham, who died in Lanchester Road Hospital, near Durham, in 2020.

Bereaved families and former patients have been calling for a public inquiry into the trust's actions for some time and have now held a protest on the matter outside the Lanchester Road site, to coincide with World Mental Health Day.

Tees Esk and Wear Valleys Trust plead guilty to two charges over Christie Harnett's death but will stand trial for the death of Emily Moore. Credit: Families

"We all want the same thing which is a public inquiry into the trust," explained Emily Moore's dad David. "If Rishi Sunak is watching this trust goes right across his constituency and he should be looking and he should be ashamed and something should have been done by now. It's been many years now that this trust is in shambles."  

An independent review into the trust's actions has been announced and the bereaved families have held meetings with mental health minister Maria Caulfield. However, they still feel more needs to be done given the trust's failings.

"Independent reviews are okay but because of what's happened here so many times, it needs something more," Casey Tremain, Christie Harnett's grandmother said. The whole trust needs to be overhauled.

"The only way that can happen is for a public inquiry, then everyone has to talk and say how they viewed it.

"They are not doing enough. There's still more to be done. There are changes but they seem to be small and that's not good enough. Christie has been dead for four years now and we see very little change."

Ms Tremain's thoughts were echoed by the parents of Viktor Scott-Brown. The 18-year-old took his own life in took his own life in December 2018 while under the care of the trust, three weeks after being prescribed a new medication for his suspected Bipolar disorder.

A coroner ruled his death was avoidable and his family have been campaigning for changes ever since. 

"Every time we hear of an inquest report," his dad Nick said. "The failings are exactly the same as what happened to Viktor.

"It didn't have to be this way. We've told them what our experience was and what the failings were and the same failings are still happening."

His mum Claire added: "We went through a four-year process trying to find out what went wrong with Viktor's care and we were told the trust would learn lessons from that.

"We can't bring Viktor back but we would have hoped unearthing failures in his care would have made a difference to other people and to find out that it hasn't is absolutely devastating."

Viktor Scott-Brown took his own life in 2018. Credit: Family

Responding to the protest Tees Esk and Wear Valleys Trust said they would co-operate with an inquiry into their conduct and were striving to improve.

In a statement, they said: “Our deepest sympathies remain with the families who have lost loved ones.

“While we have made significant improvements, we fully accept that there is still more to do.

“Decisions on public inquiries are made by the government.  We have cooperated fully with all inquiries to date and will, of course, do so in the future.” 

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson added: “Every death in mental health care is a tragedy and it is right facilities meet the highest safety and quality standards so patients can have faith in the care they receive.

“A series of national investigations into mental health inpatient care settings will soon be launched to identify where improvements are needed to increase the quality of care and safety standards.

“We also commissioned an independent rapid review into how we can improve the way data and evidence are used in mental health inpatient settings to identify risks to patient safety. We’ll respond to this review in due course.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...