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NHS trust failed to investigate hundreds of deaths

The NHS has failed to investigate the unexpected deaths of more than 1,000 people since 2011 according to a new report.

The NHS has failed to investigate the unexpected deaths of more than 1,000 people since 2011 according to a new report.

It blames a “failure of leadership” at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and that the deaths of mental health and learning disability patients were not properly examined.

Southern Health said it “fully accepted” the quality of processes for investigating and reporting a death needed to be better, but had improved.

The trust is one of the country’s largest mental health trusts, covering Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire and providing services to about 45,000 people.

The investigation, commissioned by NHS England and carried out by Mazars, a large audit firm, looked at all deaths at the trust between April 2011 and March 2015.

During that period, it found 10,306 people had died. Most were expected. However, 1,454 did not.

Of those, 272 were treated as critical incidents, of which just 195 – 13% – were treated by the trust as a serious incident requiring investigation (SIRI).

The likelihood of an unexpected death being investigated depended hugely on the type of patient.

The most likely group to see an investigation was adults with mental health problems, where 30% were investigated. For those with learning disability the figure was 1%, and among over-65s with mental health problems it was just 0.3%.

The average age at death of those with a learning disability was 56 – over seven years younger than the national average.

Even when investigations were carried out, they were of a poor quality and often extremely late, the NHS England report says.

Repeated criticisms from coroners about the timeliness and usefulness of reports provided for inquests by Southern Health failed to improve performance, while there was often little effort to engage with the families of the deceased.

Key findings from the report

  • The trust could not demonstrate a comprehensive systematic approach to learning from deaths
  • Despite the trust having comprehensive data on deaths, it failed to use it effectively
  • Too few deaths among those with learning disability and over-65s with mental health problems were investigated, and some cases should have been investigated further
  • In nearly two thirds of investigations, there was no family involvement

The reasons for the failures, says the report, lie squarely with senior executives and the trust board.

There was no “effective” management of deaths or investigations or “effective focus or leadership from the board”, it says.

Even when the board did ask relevant questions, the report says, they were constantly reassured by executives that processes were robust and investigations thorough.

The culture of Southern Health, which has been led by Katrina Percy since it was created in 2011, “results in lost learning, a lack of transparency when care problems occur, as well as lack of assurance to families that a death was not avoidable and has been properly investigated,” the report says.

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