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Deaths unexplained, lives devastated: here’s another national tragedy hidden in plain sight

The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk is calling for a criminal investigation into an apparent scandal that decisively surfaced over the summer, centred on the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS foundation trust (or NSFT), which sees to mental health provision across those two very large English counties.

It is centred on the “unexpected” deaths of 8,440 people between April 2019 and October 2022, all of whom were either under the care of the trust, or had been up to six months before they died. The story of the failures that led to that statistic date back at least a decade; the campaign says it amounts to nothing less than “the largest deaths crisis in the history of the NHS”.

The figure of 8,440 was the key finding of a report by the accounting and consultancy firm Grant Thornton – commissioned by the trust, ironically enough, to respond to anxious claims by campaigners, disputed by the trust, that there had been 1,000 unexpected deaths over nine years.

There are no consistent national statistics for such deaths, and no universal definition of “unexpected”: in Norfolk and Suffolk, a death will be recorded as such if the person concerned was not identified by NHS staff as critically or terminally ill; the term includes deaths from natural causes as well as suicide, homicide, abuse and neglect. The period in question includes the worst of the pandemic, although the trust’s own annual deaths figures did not reach a peak until 2022-23. But the numbers still seem jaw-dropping: they represent an average of about 45 deaths a week.

To put that in some kind of perspective, earlier reports about the trust’s deaths record had raised the alarm about a similar number of people dying every month. And the Grant Thornton report included another key revelation: the fact that the trust’s record-keeping was so chaotic that in about three-quarters of cases, it did not know the specifics of how or why the people concerned had died. After its publication, moreover, there were more revelations about the trust, and its culture and practices. 

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Source: The Guardian, 21 January 2024


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