Call for investigation into every death in mental health facilities following tragic cases of teenagers

Peers in Westminster have called for an independent investigation into every death by someone being detained under the Mental Health Act after the tragic cases of three teenagers.

A report released last week found 120 failings in the care of Christie Harnett and Nadia Sharif (pictured), both 17, and Emily Moore, 18, who died from suicide while being treated by Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys Trust.

While the Government has promised an investigation into the three deaths, peers have gone a step further to argue every death under these circumstances should merit an investigation.

The highest rate of mortality in custody is in secure mental health facilities – higher than prison and immigration centres.

Baroness Berridge, who sits on the Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Health Bill, noted that, despite this, deaths for those detained under the Mental Health Act do not necessitate an independent investigation, unlike deaths in prison and immigration centres.

The Tory peer said: “We received evidence that the highest rate of mortality for those held in custody between 2016 and 2019 was among those held under the Mental Health Act.

“If you die in a prison or an immigration centre, there will be an independent investigation under the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, and if you die in police custody, the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) will investigate.

“There is no independent investigation should you die while detained under the Mental Health Act.

“Is that not a lacuna that the Government could look into in relation to deaths while being detained under the Mental Health Act?”

Health minister Lord Markham said the Department for Health and Social Care is set to undertake a “rapid review” involving an independent chairman.

Labour peer Lord Harris of Haringrey, who chaired the Independent Advisory Group on Deaths in Custody from 2009 to 2015, pushed the issue further.

He said: “The largest number of deaths in custody were those in secure mental health units.

“There is no independent arrangement.

“It is all very well to talk about an independent chair, but, essentially, the assessment is being made by those in the same field — sometimes, indeed, in the same institution.

“The Government are failing their Article 2 (of the Human Rights Act) obligations on the right to life.”

Lord Markham repeated the Government’s apology for care failings.

He said: “Everyone in any mental health facility is entitled to high-quality care and treatment and should be kept safe from harm.

“The findings from the investigation into the deaths of Christie, Nadia and Emily make for painful reading.

“The death of any young person is a tragedy and all the more so when that young person should have been receiving care and support.

“My thoughts and, I am sure, the thoughts of the whole House, are with the families and friends and I want to apologise for the failings of care that they received.”

Lord Markham said he agreed “we cannot have people marking their own homework, for want of a better phrase”, promising to make the point to those in his department.

He added: “We are spending about £400 million to eradicate dorms, which are often part of the problem, but that is not to say that more does not need to be done.”

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