Jeremy Hunt urged to investigate after trusts examine just 222 of 1,638 deaths of patients with learning disabilities

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Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, is facing calls for a nationwide inquiry into the deaths of highly vulnerable patients in NHS care after it emerged that just one in seven such fatalities in hospitals in England have been investigated.

Data released to the Guardian under freedom of information (FOI) laws show that hospitals in England have investigated just 222 out of 1,638 deaths of patients with learning disabilities since 2011.

Even among deaths they classed as unexpected, hospitals inquired into just over a third. Only 137 (35%) of the 397 deaths in that category were the subject of an investigation, despite longstanding concerns that these patients receive poorer care and are at higher risk of dying while in hospital.

“The findings from this investigation are very concerning,” said Prof Mike Richards, England’s chief inspector of hospitals. “We’re keen to work with the Guardian to look at the new information in more detail. This will help us to plan the review that CQC [Care Quality Commission] is already committed to doing.”

The data has provoked serious unease as it appears to show that recently exposed failings at the Southern Health NHS trust, in the south of England, are widespread. A report by the audit firm Mazars, commissioned by the Department of Health, showed that at that trust just four of 93 unexpected deaths among people with a learning disability were looked into. Trusts are meant to examine and learn from unexpected deaths under tougher NHS-wide patient safety rules introduced after the Mid Staffs scandal to reduce the risk of repeated mistakes. An expected death is one that follows a period of illness which has been identified as terminal and where there is no active intervention to prolong life while an unexpected death is one where these conditions don’t apply.

Read the full article by Emily Keen and at the Guardian here

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt has been urged to look into hospital deaths of vulnerable patients. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA