I would like to update the House following a point of order on this issue on 12 April 2016 (Col 183) made by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), former Minister of State for Community and Social Care, who met the voluntary and community sector organisation that brought this issue to light with the BBC. He was able to have a useful discussion with them on the key problems and potential solutions. He made the commitment to look into this issue and set out how this will be improved in the future.
Deaths in children’s in-patient mental health services are rare events. Every preventable death, especially in young people, is a tragedy and it is important that they are properly recorded so that lessons can be learned and action taken where necessary. There can be particular challenges in the way deaths are registered and classified. There can be a time lag before an inquest concludes on the cause of death and where a young person is concerned; there may be a lack of clarity around intent, so that the cause of death may not be classified as suicide.
Officials have now made a detailed assessment of the available data. I can confirm that there have been 11 deaths of patients under the care of mental health in-patient services, both inside and outside of the premises since January 2013. It is not possible to provide an accurate figure on the number of deaths prior to this time period, due to the commissioning arrangements and data collection methods which were in place at that time. It is with regret that I cannot provide a figure for this earlier time period. However, I am fully committed to making sure that we are able to improve on this in the future.
Following assessment of the data, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire brought into effect increased oversight in this area. As of June 2016, both the Minister with responsibility for mental health and the Secretary of State for Health receive an immediate report of any death in a children’s in-patient mental health setting or on home leave from such services where they occur. We will simultaneously notify the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide if a self-inflicted death has occurred in these circumstances, so that both the figures and clinical lessons can be captured as part of annual reports, which will be made available to Parliament. This will provide insights for national and local organisations to take on board. We have written to providers of children’s mental health in-patient services to remind them of the responsibilities of their reporting duties.
A report by the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide on Suicide in Children and Young People, which was published on 26 May 2016, shows that 60% of those who had died had not been in contact with mental health services at all. This illustrates the urgent need to make sure that children and young people can access mental health services to prevent such tragedies in future. The ambitious transformation programme that has been put in place to ensure that young people receive the support they need is designed to do just that.
We know that we need to improve the system of investigating deaths of mental health patients. The Government and local providers are working hard on the implementation of the Mental Health Taskforce report which will address these issues, and the House will be kept informed. Also, the Secretary of State recently announced a series of measures in response to the Care Quality Commission’s report “Learning, candour and accountability” that will require NHS trusts and foundation trusts to improve their understanding of deaths arising from problems in care and demonstrate the learning and action that follows.
On behalf of both previous and current Ministers, I am grateful to those who have brought this matter to our attention in the House.