North West Norfolk MP calls death probe response ‘a shambles’

North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham
North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham

An MP has branded his government’s response to a West Norfolk couple’s call for independent inquiries into sudden mental health deaths as a “complete shambles.”

The scathing attack by North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham is contained in letters, seen by the Lynn News, to Jon and Ann Higgins, from South Wootton.

In January, Sir Henry backed their fight to make it mandatory for independent investigations to take place into unexpected deaths in mental health institutions.

The campaign followed the inquest into the death of their son, Christopher, in 2013, while he was in the care of the Fermoy unit in Lynn.

But, despite the issue being raised with ministers, it took up to three months for them to respond to the concerns raised by Sir Henry and Dr and Mrs Higgins.

In his letter to the couple, Sir Henry said: “What a complete shambles.

“Although I do believe their heart is in the right place, it is pretty poor form to take so long to reply to basic requests.”

In his letter, health minister Alistair Burt said the government was “determined” to ensure the NHS learnt from the experiences of families like the Higgins.

He said he had shared details of their case with the Care Quality Commission and revealed that officials had updated the guidance issued to health trusts to take account of human rights laws.

But he also admitted: “We know that we need to go further to improve patient safety and give staff the confidence to know that they will be supported and listened to when they have concerns.”

And Mrs Higgins said the response so far had been insufficient.

She said this week: “Everyone says they’re very sorry, they’re very sorry and we keep being passed about.

“I don’t feel we have had anything like justice whatsoever.”

Unlike deaths in police custody or in prison, there is no requirement for unexpected deaths within the NHS to be independently examined.

The couple have demanded that situation is changed and Sir Henry has argued that a model similar to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) should be introduced.

Mrs Higgins also has concerns about the way in which the inquest into Christopher’s death was conducted.

She said: “The process was awful, not at all helpful to relatives of anyone who has died.”

Mr Burt said her concerns had been shared with the Ministry of Justice and the Chief Coroner.