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Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust 'must do more to help families get closure'

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MORE must be done to ensure bereaved families get the closure they deserve over the deaths of their loved ones in the care of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, say politicians.

A meeting of Hampshire county councillors discussed the stage-two independent report that was commissioned by NHS Improvement (NHSi), writes David George of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The investigation was sparked by the deaths of five people under the trust’s care between 2011 and 2015, but it did not examine these deaths in particular.

Maureen Rickman
Maureen Rickman

At a meeting of the public health and adult social care select committee, bereaved family members told councillors that examining policies has got them "nowhere closer" to an end to their ordeal.

Joanna Deering, from New Milton, died in October 2011 from a drug overdose while under the care of the trust.

Her sister, Maureen Rickman, said at the meeting: "The failings that led to the five deaths were not investigated, and the families still do not have the answers.

"If the terms of reference had been followed, the investigation should have given insight into the care inadequacies. Instead, we were denied the closure we were promised.

"The committee has not been given reliable information on the deaths that require attention. The people of Hampshire deserve better than this."

The families previously withdrew from both stages of the investigation process, saying in a joint statement that they had been "misrepresented, gaslighted and bullied" by the trust and NHSi.

Cllr Kim Taylor said: "What I’m getting is a clear sense that the relatives aren’t able to achieve some sort of closure through this process.

"There is a moral imperative to look at how that can be achieved."

Cllr David Harrison said: "It’s quite obvious that Southern Health hasn’t enjoyed the trust or confidence of the families – and I wonder if there should be a more fundamental review of the whole process.

"I’m extremely discomfited by these allegations and we need to look root and branch at this."

The report itself put forward 39 recommendations for improvements in areas such as complaints handling, information sharing and quality assurance.

Ron Shields, chief executive of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We publicly and unreservedly apologise to the bereaved families.

"The trust has fully participated in and accepted the report – which actually provides a platform against which we can assess how the trust is doing.

"Some of these recommendations are ongoing, such as how we engage with patients, which can be a matter of human dynamics."

Mr Shields will present an action plan before the select committee in January next year, which will aim to rectify the failings noted in Nigel Pascoe QC’s report.

The council’s recommendation was to simply note the stage-two report, but councillors also voted through an amendment to officially include the concerns raised, including from Dr Rickman and campaigner Geoff Hill.

Speaking after the meeting, Dr Rickman added: "It’s been heartening to talk to the committee and hear their positive feedback, and their interest in looking into this further.

"Every family deserves answers – so why we’ve been waiting 10 years is beyond me."

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