THE status of a “toothless” investigation into mental health services provided by a NHS trust, after thousands of its patients died while under its care or shortly after, could be upgraded following support from a group of Essex MPs.

The Essex Partnership University Trust is at the centre of an independent inquiry into mental health standards after a series of deaths on an NHS mental health unit in Essex.

A group of Essex MPs met with the Health Secretary Steve Barclay to discuss the inquiry, which has previously been criticised for failing to attract staff to come forward as witnesses.

Chelmsford MP Vicky Ford said Mr Barclay is “taking [the inquiry] very seriously”, and understands he is meeting with the chair of the inquiry after the Easter break.

Ms Ford added: “We made it very clear we are concerned it would be difficult for the current inquiry to make progress unless it has the confidence of the bereaved families.

“We must ensure the inquiry can fully understand what happened in these cases so there is transparency and accountability, but vitally so lessons can be learned so people don’t suffer in the same way in the future.”

Melanie Leahy, whose son Matthew died at the Linden Centre in Chelmsford in 2012, warned “people are at risk of death” until necessary changes are implemented.

Gazette: Campaigner - Melanie Leahy has spent several years campaigning following the death of her son MatthewCampaigner - Melanie Leahy has spent several years campaigning following the death of her son Matthew

“Public confidence in Essex mental health services is as its lowest ever,” said Melanie.

For news updates straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

She continued: “There is nobody in Essex who hasn’t had their life touched by these issues [or have been] impacted in one way or another.

“[The health secretary] will not achieve our confidence without the statutory powers required to compel witnesses [to come forward] and evidence from the trust itself.”

Witham MP Priti Patel was among the MPs who met with Mr Barclay and said: “The public have sought answers and I have pressed [EPUT] and the government to take action.

“The latest CQC report shows there continues to be failings in the quality of mental health services in Essex and moving the current inquiry to a statutory footing may now be the only way lessons from past failures can be learned.”

An EPUT spokesperson said: “Over recent weeks we have intensified our efforts to encourage all staff to proactively engage with the inquiry.

“There is a need to meet the commitment to families, carers and service users who rightly expect answers and we remain committed to working with the inquiry now and in the future.”