AN NHS trust responsible for looking after mental health patients in Essex is under serious investigation after thousands of people were found to have died while under its care or shortly after.

The Essex Partnership University Trust, which provides services to roughly 1.3 million people, is at the centre of the country's first public inquiry into mental health standards.

The Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry was announced by Nadine Dorries in 2020, when she was a health minister, after a series of deaths on an NHS mental health unit in Essex.

Shockingly, it now finds itself looking into the deaths of about 2,000 people, after new information saw the figure increase.


Dr Geraldine Strathdee, chairwoman of the inquiry, said the initial figure of 1,500 deaths was based on information from the trust and announced in March 2022.

All of the 1,500 died while they were a patient on a mental health ward in Essex, or within three months of being discharged, between 2000 and 2020.

In an open letter, Dr Strathdee wrote: “In December 2022, I received an update on this number from EPUT, and it actually stands closer to 2,000.

“This is a significant increase in the number of people who have lost their lives as mental health patients – and the number of families who have suffered this grief.

“I am concerned that it has taken two years since this inquiry was announced to be informed about these individuals’ deaths by the trust.

“My inquiry will now begin the process of writing to these families to offer to meet with all of them who would like to provide evidence to the inquiry.”

Dr Strathdee has since described the number of responses to the inquiry from current and former staff as “hugely disappointing”.

She also said the inquiry has heard “remarkable and sobering evidence from many families” in the past year.

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“Of the over 14,000 staff written to, we have received a small number of written comments from staff and, to date, only 11 have said they would attend an evidence session," she added.

“Where we have also written directly to some of those involved in the cases of deceased patients we are investigating, one in four have responded to say they will provide evidence."

On Tuesday, Dr Strathdee met health secretary Steve Barclay to share her concerns about the inquiry.

She fears the challenges she faces may cause any updates from inquiry to not see the light of day until the spring.

“I am confident that my concerns are being treated seriously and I will update my witnesses as soon as I’m in a position to do so," she added.

“The inquiry’s work will continue while we await further progress.

“I remain committed to getting answers for families and patients as soon as possible.”

A spokesman for Essex Partnership University NHS Trust said: “We continue to proactively encourage our staff to engage with this inquiry and are offering colleagues support and advice throughout this period whether they choose to engage or not as individuals.

 “There is a need to meet the commitment to families, carers and service users who rightly expect answers.”