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Families of patients who died in care of NHS trust refuse to take part in ‘charade’ investigation

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Southern Health's base at Tatchbury Mount in Calmore, Totton
Southern Health's base at Tatchbury Mount in Calmore, Totton

THE families of patients who died while under the care of a local NHS trust have refused to take part in a public investigation they have termed a “charade”.

Following an independent report into Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust by Nigel Pascoe QC which highlighted “significant, serious and deeply regrettable failures”, the investigation is now inviting families to engage in a second stage public hearing.

Southern Health is based at Tatchbury Mount, near Totton, and provides mental health services in Hampshire. It is also responsible for hospitals at Lymington, Hythe and Fordingbridge.

Last year former trust chief executive Dr Nick Broughton, who stood down in May, said he was “profoundly sorry” for the handling of four cases between 2012 and 2015, which was laid out in the 2020 report.

Commissioned by NHS Improvement, the report looked into the trust’s response to the deaths of Robert Small in 2012, David West in 2013, Edward Hartley in 2014, and Marion Munns in 2015.

The statement from the families was co-signed by Barton resident Maureen Rickman, whose sister Jo Deering (52), from New Milton, died by suicide in 2011 after being discharged from hospital.

Mrs Rickman has always maintained the investigation should have included Jo’s death, and claimed what had been “dressed up” as an investigation was in fact a “kangaroo court”.

The families claimed they had been “misled, misrepresented, gaslighted and bullied” by NHS management.

The investigation has asked for witness statements that are restricted to comments on the adequacy of current trust policy and procedure. But the real issue for them, they said, had always been “the lack of discipline by staff in adhering to it”.

Their statement said: “With a panel heavy with NHS management, responsible for overseeing a culture in which this lack of governance has been permitted to prevail, [the investigation] is destined to fall far short of what the families have consistently been working to achieve for many years: honest and transparent investigations that facilitate quality improvement in patient safety and safeguarding.”

It was only by establishing and accepting a “full, frank and honest narrative of each case” that lessons could be learnt and “much-needed” change be brought about, stressed the families.

“We must remain true to our cause and in honour of our lost loved ones refuse, through our participation, to legitimise the charade that this hearing has become.”

The chief medical officer at Southern Health, Dr Karl Marlowe, responded: “We are saddened to hear that the families have withdrawn from the process but respect their decision.

“We are fully participating with stage 2 of the independent review, which has been commissioned by NHS England and Improvement.”

In his first report, Mr Pascoe praised changes brought in by the trust but criticised it for failures including insensitivity and delays, poor communication and planning, and lack of supervision and support. He recommended payments to families of up to £5,000.

As part of stage 2 of the probe, NHS Improvement said the panel will not look at individual cases but “consider whether the current policies are appropriate or if they require improvement”.

The public hearings are set to take place between 4th March and 16th April.

Southern Health was recently rated as ‘good’ by the Care Quality Commission, up from ‘requires improvement’.

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