National Health Service

NHS trust boss defends reputation after “shocking” mental health patient death data

The chief executive of the NHS trust with the largest number of reported mental health patient deaths over a six-month period has defended his organisation’s reputation.

National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) figures show there are an average of four deaths a day of people in NHS mental health settings in England.

Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust reported it had 57 “mental health setting” patient deaths over the April to September 2008 period – the highest rate of an NHS trust in England.

But Erville Millar, chief executive of Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, said there were “significant flaws” in how the NPSA data has been published.

“The data do not take into consideration the geographical size of trusts or the size of the population they serve,” he said.

“Larger trusts are much more likely to have reported more incidents.

“The statistics do not take into consideration the nature of services provided or of the deaths. Any death is sad and should be thoroughly looked into, but some are not related to a person’s mental illness.

“Also, when you look at the reporting culture figures for our trust, it shows our reporting culture is twice as strong as average.

“This will naturally mean more incidents are recorded. We need consistent standards for collection and presentation of data before we can assess the real position for all trusts.”

The NPSA, set up in 2001, encourages NHS trusts to report safety incidents. Staff are now “more likely than ever” to report such incidents, says the NPSA.

NPSA figures – which do not include those from private organisations – reveal 1,282 people in England died in “patient safety incidents in mental health settings” from 2007-08.

NPSA data also showed another 913 patients suffered “severe harm, or permanent injuries” in such incidents.

The figures include patients who died from self-harm, including suicide, aggressive behaviour, medication safety errors and accidents.

But it is not specified how many deaths fell into each category.

Campaigners claim the high death rates are “shocking”.

““It’s a scandal that four people a day are dying while under the care of the NHS, and nearly three a day are ending up seriously harmed,” said Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman.

The party had uncovered the statistics by analysing reports sent by every hospital trust in England to the NPSA.

“There’s discrimination in the system that disadvantages the mentally ill,” he added.

Paul Corry of the mental health charity Rethink said the majority of the 1,282 deaths were likely to be suicides.

The NPSA report on patient safety incidents during the April-September 2008 period showed that 627 people died in 64,353 mental health-related patient safety incidents.

A Department of Health spokeswoman told journalists: “It would be irresponsible to draw conclusions from this data without knowing the details of each case.

“But we do know that safety on mental health wards is improving.

“Suicides have been radically reduced, from 215 in 1997 to under 150 now.”

Last year acute psychiatric wards were described as “frightening and dangerous” by the Mental Health Act Commission.

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