Matthew Leahy: Mother secures debate in Parliament over son’s death in NHS mental health unit

Matthew died aged 20 while in a mental health unit run by the NHS in Essex

By Paul GallagherOctober 18, 2020 4:44 pm

Melanie Leahy with her son Matthew Leahy, who died aged 20 in November 2012 under the care of the NHS Image supplied to writer Paul Gallagher by Melanie
Melanie Leahy with her son Matthew Leahy, who died aged 20 in November 2012 under the care of the NHS (Photo: Melanie Leahy)

A mother who has spent almost a decade campaigning for a public inquiry into the death of her son while in NHS care has secured a debate in Parliament over the tragedy.

The debate will be heard on November 30 after more than 100,000 people signed Melanie Leahy’s petition concerning Matthew Leahy, who died in 2012 aged 20 while in NHS care at The Linden Centre, a mental health unit in Essex run by North Essex Partnership University Trust (NEP). 

Despite numerous investigations, some of which are ongoing, no one has been held accountable for his death.

A coroner recorded an open verdict during the 2015 inquest into Matthew’s death. He is one of 25 people who died at several mental health facilities run by the trust since 2000 and whose families believe they are still being denied the whole truth.

Melanie Leahy with her son Matthew Leahy, who died aged 20 in November 2012 under the care of the NHS Image supplied to writer Paul Gallagher by Melanie
Melanie Leahy has been campaigning for eight years to get to the bottom of what happened to her son, Matthew (Photo: Melanie Leahy)

Search for the truth

In June, revealed the nursing regulator had reopened fitness to practice cases into three mental health staff who worked at the trust while Matthew was in care. The Nursing and Midwifery Council said it had decided to reopen the cases because it did not consider all the concerns Ms Leahy had raised over the years had been addressed.

Last month, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it was prosecuting the trust for safety failings over the death of 10 patients, including Matthew’s. The patients died between 25 October 2004 and 31 March 2015 while they were in the care of the trust, which merged with South Essex Partnership Trust in 2017, to form Essex Partnership Trust.

The prosecution is over the risks of “fixed potential ligature points” at inpatient units after a number of patients hanged themselves. Three days after being admitted into what his mother believed was a place of safety, Matthew reported he had been drugged and raped. Four days later he was found dead in his room. The first hearing is due on 12 November at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court.

Call for public inquiry

On Friday, in a Commons debate on deaths in mental care facilities, South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge raised the case of his constituent Richard Wade who called the police as he was suffering from poor mental health and feared that he would hurt himself. Officers admitted him to The Linden Centre in May 2015 but after just 12 hours he attempted suicide and passed away in nearby Broomfield Hospital a few days later.

Melanie Leahy with her son Matthew Leahy, who died aged 20 in November 2012 under the care of the NHS Image supplied to writer Paul Gallagher by Melanie
Melanie Leahy’s ultimate aim is a public inquiry into the deaths of up to 25 people at the now defunct Trust. (Photo: Melanie Leahy) 

Mr Wade, who had a PhD in political science and had published a book two years before, was just 30 years old when he died. His parents, Linda and Robert Wade, are also calling for a public inquiry.

Mr Cartlidge said: “I believe that the case for a public inquiry or an independent inquiry is very strong, particularly in the case of Richard Wade, because, in demonstrating how the Care Quality Commission failed to investigate his death, it prompts the following very simple question. 

“Since that investigation timed out under its statutory time limit, if not an independent inquiry, what else can we offer the Wades in their search for the truth of what happened to their son?”

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Edward Argar said ‘serious questions’ had been raised (Photo: Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

‘Serious questions’

Health Minister Edward Argar told the Commons it is the Government’s intention to commission “an independent review into the serious questions raised by a series of tragic deaths of patients at the Linden Centre between 2008 and 2015”. 

The Department of Health will work with the HSE to ensure the review does not prejudice ongoing legal action. But that does not go far enough for the families.

Ms Leahy, who is being represented by Nina Ali, a medical negligence lawyer at Hodge Jones Allen, said: “If we don’t have a public inquiry we are never going to get the evidence we require, we’re not going to the answers we require and we are not going to get the staff testimonies. 

“There must be a statutory public inquiry so those involved can be compelled under oath to give testimony, evidence can be released and we can get to the truth – to the bottom of what’s been going on all these years.”

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