The region's under-fire mental health trust has unveiled its new approach to keeping track of the people who have died under its care after admitting it had previously lost count.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust came in for fierce criticism after a probe into its record-keeping found "several shortcomings" which meant it, in effect, could not say how many of its patients had died.

Bereaved families and campaigners said this fact prevented the trust from learning lessons when people died and showed contempt for those who had lost somebody while receiving mental health care.

The review, carried out by auditors Grant Thornton, prompted NSFT bosses to redesign the way it tracks these statistics - and how the data is gathered.

During a meeting of the trust's board of directors, the new, mainly automated, approach was unveiled.

The data showed that between November 1 last year and January 31 this year, 437 people died either while receiving treatment or within six months of discharge.

Under the new dataset, the trust then classifies people into four categories:

  • Expected natural causes - when a person dies a naturally occurring death such as from old age or serious illness
  • Unexpected natural causes - when a person dies a naturally occurring death that was sudden or not anticipated
  • Unexpected unnatural causes - when a person dies as an unnatural death, including suicide, homicide or drug toxicity
  • Unascertained cause

Gary O'Hare, the trust's governance and safety advisor, said that during the period analysed, 15 people had died "unexpected unnatural deaths" while in the trust's care.

He said: "It is important that we can present data in a way that is clear and unambiguous and we then need to measure the impact.

"We have got to get things absolutely right with the way we report these things."

Concerns remain

Eastern Daily Press: Caroline Aldridge and Emma Corlett, two of the authors of Forever GoneCaroline Aldridge and Emma Corlett, two of the authors of Forever Gone (Image: David Hannant)

While campaigners welcomed the increased detail in the trust's method, concerns remain about aspects of the approach.

A spokesperson for the authors of Forever Gone, a report which scrutinised the trust's previous methods said: "We are pleased to see that as a result of years of campaigning that, finally, mortality data is being published with sufficient detail to make it possible to scrutinise NSFT-related data.

"We are concerned that while the numbers are more likely to be accurate now, the attitudes and practices that underpin the analysis remain poor.

"The data presented raises many questions - not least about comorbidity because it does not seem to be taken into account.

"People receiving inadequate mental health care or with serious mental illness often die prematurely of physical conditions - we remain unconvinced that NSFT is open to owning its part in such deaths.

"Accurate mortality data is important because it shows lives matter enough to be recorded and it assists with learning."