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Government announces national investigation into mental health inpatient care settings

Two people standing at end of corridor in hospital

The government has announced it will launch a national investigation into safety issues at mental health inpatient care settings this October.

The national investigation will be conducted by a new Health Services Safety Investigations Body which will assess mental health facilities on how well they care for young people and how well they learn from the deaths that take place under their care.

The Body will also look into how out-of-area placements are handled, and how staffing models can be improved.

Essex inquiry to become statutory

The news comes alongside an announcement that the Essex Mental Health independent inquiry will become statutory, giving it the necessary legal powers to improve inpatient safety and learn lessons from the past.

The inquiry was launched following the deaths of 1,500 mental health inpatients at Essex NHS Trusts between 2000 and 2020. These patients all died in circumstances that were “unexpected, unexplained or self-inflicted”.

Dr Geraldine Strathdee was appointed Chair of the non-statutory inquiry and, following her advice, the government has confirmed today that it will be converted to a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.

The Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, says the recommendations from this investigation will help service providers to improve safety standards in mental health facilities across the country.

“Everyone receiving care in a mental health facility should feel safe and be confident they’re receiving world-class treatment,” Mr Barclay said.

“We take any failure to do so seriously and that’s why the Essex inquiry was launched and I’m now taking further action to give it the necessary legal powers, to help improve inpatient safety and learn the lessons of the past.”

“I’d like to thank all those involved for their work on this inquiry so far, particularly Dr Strathdee for chairing it. I remain determined to transform and improve mental health care and will continue working to ensure people right across the country receive the care they need,” he added.

Findings of a rapid review into mental health inpatient settings published

The findings of an independent rapid review into mental health inpatient settings have also been published by the government today.

Dr Strathdee chaired the rapid review as well as the Essex inquiry, which used evidence and views from more than 300 experts in mental health inpatient pathways.

The review makes recommendations to help improve the way data and evidence is used to monitor safety and improve care so patients and their carers can feel confident in the quality of treatment they’re receiving. It found that:

  • Commissioners, trusts, providers, regional bodies and national organisations are not always measuring what matters for patient safety in mental health inpatient pathways.
  • Data that measures the quantity and type of therapeutic intervention is often not available, and there are some key gaps in the availability of routine data sources to produce indicators to monitor certain safety issues.
  • Information about the physical health needs of patients is not always collected and that physical health services are not always well integrated
  • Patients and carers do not always feel that their voices are heard on wards and that their feelings, views and opinions were not always available to key decision makers.
  • Staff often spend too much entering data (reducing time spent with patients) and commissioners often ask for different information from each other which leads to a lack of consistency and extra burden on staff.
  • There are often significant time lags in processing, uploading and sharing data and frontline clinical staff often get very little value for the data they enter.
  • Key information about patients does not always follow the patient through their therapeutic journey and is not regularly passed between agencies.

The report has made some key recommendations for the government to improve these areas, and ministers say they will issue a response to these recommendations in due course.

Response to the review will help trusts improve care for patients

In response to the review, minister for mental health Maria Caulfield said: “It’s only right mental health care facilities meet the highest safety standards and that patients have faith in the care they receive.

“The publication of the rapid review recognises the importance of transparency and accountability as we continue to improve mental health services across the country.

“Our ongoing work in response to the review will help Trusts and facilities identify ways to improve and ensure every patient receives safe, exemplary care.”

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