Piers MeylerLocal Democracy Reporter
The mother of a man who died while in the care of Essex Mental Health Services will have her bid for a public inquiry debated in Parliament next month.
On November 30, Parliament will debate Melanie Leahy’s petition for a public inquiry into the death of her son, Matthew Leahy who died while in the care of the Linden Centre in Chelmsford.
An open letter to the Parliamentary Petition Committee comes as her petition for a public inquiry into the death of her son reaches 105,580 signatures and more families come forward to reveal stories of horrific abuse and neglect by Essex Mental Healthcare Services.
Melanie met with MP Catherine McKinnell, chair of the Parliamentary Petitions Committee on Thursday, September 24 to discuss her petition calling for a Statutory Public Inquiry into the death of her son, who died in 2012 in the care of North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (NEP), under the care of Essex Mental Health Services.
In an open letter written by Melanie following her meeting, she calls upon the government to prioritise the debate as a matter of urgency to avoid the future deaths of individuals, and re-iterates the ongoing campaign for a public inquiry into the deaths and abuse of multiple past victims while in the care of Essex Mental Health Services.
Since Melanie launched her campaign for a public inquiry earlier this year, a total of 24 families have come forward to tell their stories of appalling patient abuse – including stories of rape and patients being set on fire – suffered under the care of psychiatric services across Essex.
The search for additional families continues, with Melanie and the team behind the campaign encouraging those who have lost loved ones either to inpatient or community deaths, or individuals themselves who have been failed and survived, to make themselves known.
Melanie said: “Whether it was under NEP, South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (SEPT), or Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, whether the victim is young or old, it matters not.
“What matters is that we unite together to get answers and force change for the better. Other lives depend on it.
“The accounts of abuse collected so far span many years.
“We are not talking about negligent care here, but active, systemic and ongoing gross neglect and abuse of the vulnerable.
“There is something insidious and rotten in Essex Mental Healthcare, both across its inpatient facilities and in care being provided in the community, and it must be exposed and stopped.”
Hodge Jones and Allen solicitors, the London-based social justice law firm, is leading the legal campaign for a public inquiry with Melanie.
Nina Ali, partner at Hodge Jones and Allen, said: “Let me be very clear – there is evidence of ongoing exploitation and abuse within Essex mental health services which have led to unexplained deaths, people taking their own lives, and injured parties traumatised for life.”
Priya Singh, associate at Hodge Jones and Allen, added: “There have been investigations in the past, but they have been piecemeal and fragmented – the system has not changed one bit.
“We are pushing for a public inquiry because it’s our firm belief that only with the combined voices of these families will those responsible be held to account.”
Melanie’s letter comes as Health and Safety Executive, Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety, launches its own prosecution against the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust – formed of a merger between NEP and SEPT in 2017 – for how NEP managed environmental risks from fixed potential ligature points in its inpatient wards between October 25, 2004 and March 31, 2015.
In Melanie’s fight she has gained support from Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles South; Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth; Home Secretary Priti Patel; and politician and retired MP Sir Norman Lamb, among others.
The Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman, Rob Brehens, has also ordered a government review into Matthew’s case.
In a letter to Melanie, Priti Patel said: “The case of Matthew Leahy, and other patients at the former North Essex Partnership University NHS Trust, shows how tragedy can follow when care is not only poor but when serious errors and neglect takes place.
“I fully sympathise with the hurt, pain and distress the families feel.
“I commend the steely determination of Melanie Leahy and all the other families who have been campaigning on this issue in tragic circumstances and I know that they are disappointed with the outcome of previous investigations.
“Questions about the trust’s care of vulnerable patients remain unanswered and I support Mrs Leahy’s call for a public inquiry into this case.”
In a separate parliamentary debate on today (Friday, October 16) entitled ‘Care Quality Commission handling of deaths in mental health facilities”‘, James Cartlidge MP will set out a “tragic” constituency case also related to the Linden Centre.
EPUT, created following the merger of South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust and North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, has been approached for comment.