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Norfolk & Suffolk mental health trust launches ‘desperately needed’ probe into number of patient deaths

PUBLISHED: 17:31 28 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:57 29 January 2016

Christopher Higgins died unexpectedly while in the care of the trust in 2013.

Christopher Higgins died unexpectedly while in the care of the trust in 2013.

Archant

An independent inquiry into the rise of unexpected deaths at the region’s mental health trust will be carried out after it emerged figures for Norfolk and Suffolk were the highest in the country.

Michael Scott CEO of the Norfolk and Suffolk FoundationTrust  answering questions on the findings in Care Quality Commission report. Photo : Steve AdamsMichael Scott CEO of the Norfolk and Suffolk FoundationTrust answering questions on the findings in Care Quality Commission report. Photo : Steve Adams

The announcement came on the same day as we revealed there were a total of 35 unexpected deaths at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) in the last three months, bringing this financial year’s total so far to 112.

The inquiry is “desperately needed” according to Ann Higgins, the mother of Christopher Higgins who died while in the care of the trust at the Fermoy Unit in 2013.

She said: “I’m happy it’s being carried out but I hope it’s done by someone from outside Norfolk and Suffolk.

“I hope they find that the service provided isn’t robust enough and that lessons will be learned.”

Mr Higgins’ death was one of 105 unexpected deaths within the trust in 2013/14.

In 2012/13 there were 53 unexpected deaths, but by 2014/15 it had shot up to 139.

This financial year the trust is likely to record its highest ever figure.

Michael Scott, chief executive of NSFT, admitted he was concerned by the rise but added he expected a high number of deaths at the trust because it is one of the largest mental health organisations in England.

The number refers to patients who die unexpectedly while in the care of the trust, or within six months of discharge.

Mr Scott said: “Commissioning an investigation by an independent organisation shows how committed our Board is into seeking clarity about what has caused this rise.

“We run drug and alcohol services which many other trusts don’t do, and patients from that area account for around 30pc of deaths.

“Our trust already investigates every single death as soon as possible to assure ourselves that the death was not due to service or care issues and any lessons learned.”

The inquiry will be carried out by NHS England and will take up to three months. Mr Scott confirmed the findings would be shared publicly.

The news, a boost for our Mental Health Watch campaign, was welcomed by Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, who said: “The figures are obviously of enormous concern and it [the trust] is right to seek to understand the full picture and then take necessary action.”

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, said: “We must never forget the real human tragedy of these unexpected deaths.”

A spokesman for campaign group Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: “The trust, health commissioners, and NHS England need to rapidly implement the inquiry’s recommendations to reduce the number of serious incidents and deaths as soon as possible and to allow the bereaved to know that everything is being done to prevent future tragedies.”

Do you have a mental health story? Email nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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