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Open Letter to:

Gillian Keegan Minister of State for Mental Health

Dear Ms Keegan,

When I first heard of your appointment as Health minister for Care and Mental Health my initial reaction was one of tentative optimism. I know you have often spoken of the importance of parity between physical and mental health and I was heartened to have heard you say that ‘mental health and housing’ are the two ‘burning issues’ for you.

So, I am hopeful that you will read and understand the urgency of this letter.

As a mum, mental health campaigner and Chair of the charity Mental health – Time for Action Foundation, I know only too well the challenges facing those suffering the torments of mental illness within what is arguably a chaotic, severely underfunded and too often barbaric system of mental health care.

Several months into my daughter’s last admission to hospital, over 300 miles away from our home, staffing levels were reduced, patient self-harm became endemic, and I knew as each hour passed that there was a very real danger that my daughter might not make it home.

In fact, was it not for the conversation I had with an NHS commissioner, a mother like myself, who not only validated my concerns but swiftly and decisively acted upon them, I would perhaps be facing the unimaginable pain of a life without my beloved daughter.

But what a terrible indictment of our mental health services that survival is too often a mere matter of chance. And what of those whose voices go unheard?

We know as every day passes there are people up and down the country who pay the ultimate price for being forgotten. People whose cries for help fall upon deaf ears.

Families who place their trust in mental health services expecting as anyone would that their loved one will be treated with dignity, respect, compassion and receive the care they need, but above all will return home safely.

Too many families however have paid the ultimate price for failure of care, the death of a loved one.

Imagine, Ms Keegan, being bereaved in this way and facing what must be the most intolerable pain. Would you not want, need, deserve to know the truth behind the loss of your loved one?

Wouldn’t you want more than anything to know that lessons would truly be learned, and other families would be spared a similar excruciating pain?

So why are so many bereaved families being forced to endure long, painful battles for truth and justice?

Families like the Leahys.

Melanie Leahy’s son Matthew died back in 2012 while an inpatient in the Linden Centre, Essex. He was just 20 years old.

 A decade on and Melanie is still fighting to find out why her son died. Why only days after he was admitted into what his mum believed was a place of safety, he was found hanged in his room. Yet despite many years of campaigning, including a government petition with over 100k signatures, Melanie is no nearer to knowing the truth of what happened to her beloved son.

Quite incredibly, before and since the tragic death of Matthew, many more unexplained deaths have been uncovered, under the same Trust. In March 2022 it was revealed that a further 1,500 deaths under Essex Partnership NHS Trust (EUPT) are to be investigated.

This same Trust, EPUT, that were fined £1.5m last year for safety failings which led to the deaths of 11 patients between 2004 and 2015.

In September last year it was announced that EUPT Child and adolescent mental health services had been rated inadequate by the CQC following an unannounced inspection triggered by the tragic death of 16 year old Elise Sebastian.

In fact, to date there are now 75 families facing the same battle to uncover the truth behind the failings in care under this Trust.

Families are quite rightly tired of the empty rhetoric of ‘lessons learned’. Tired of promises of independent inquiries that never materialise. Any one of us could be in their position and who could possibly argue that those who’ve suffered such agonizing pain do not deserve answers and assurances that lessons have truly been learned.

In 2015 Melanie’s MP Priti Patel alongside others including the late David Amess MP and Sir Norman Lamb backed the call for a Public Inquiry.

So surely now is the time for you Ms Keegan, in your position as mental health minister, to listen to the 75 families who have repeatedly called for and continue to call for a Full Statutory Inquiry?

 For reasons that are not clear, your predecessor Nadine Dorries decided to proceed with the so called ‘independent inquiry’ which lacks the essential statutory powers and authority to ensure all those asked to give evidence as witnesses will do so. Without this critical evidence any inquiry will be a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.  Unsurprisingly, none of the 75 families affected have any confidence in this inquiry and have categorically refuse to engage.

What is the point of any inquiry which does not engage with the families and individuals affected?

Surely you must agree that those who have lost their lives at the hands of services deserve so much better than this?

 In the words of bereaved mum and author of He Died Waiting Caroline Aldridge:

“Some people are deemed to be of so little worth that their lives (and their deaths) are mere whispers but his whispered life echoes loudly in the hearts of those who loved him”

We call upon you Ms Keegan to listen to the very many bereaved families, ex-patients and whistle-blowers and do the right thing – convert the current inquiry into a Full Statutory Public Inquiry.

You have it within your power to truly make a difference and ensure that truth and justice is finally a reality for all the whispered lives.

Yours in hope,

Rachel Bannister

Chair Mental Health – Time for Action Foundation

Caroline Bald Trustee Mental Health – Time for Action Foundation

Dr Colin Bannister Trustee Mental Health – Time for Action Foundation

Dr Ahmed Hankir Patron Mental Health – Time for Action Foundation

Julie Hesmondhalgh Actor

Sean Fletcher Journalist and TV Presenter

Peter Tatchell Human Rights Activist