A letter to the Secretary of State for Health #JusticeforLB

Occasionally an email lands in the Justice Shed that makes us stop in our tracks and breathe a collective sigh of relief, that someone gets it. What we are trying to achieve and why and that someone sees the games that are being played. This letter received yesterday had that effect. We share it with you here, with no further comment other than a request to please take the time to write to your MP and public representatives to ensure that the Mazars Report is not brushed under the carpet. Many thanks.

The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health
Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries Unit, Dept of Health
Richmond House,
79 Whitehall

6 January 2016

Dear Mr Hunt

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust

I refer to your statement in the House of Commons on 10th December 2015 on the publication of the Mazars audit of unexpected deaths.

You paid tribute to Connor Sparrowhawk’s mother, Sara Ryan. She was told by the Trust that his death was as a result of “natural causes”, and only through the #JusticeforLB campaign the true nature of her son’s death established at the recent inquest:

  • that Connor drowned in the bath following an epileptic seizure;
  • that his death was preventable;
  • that his death was contributed to by neglect; and
  • that there were serious failures in his care at the STATT unit run by the Trust.

Like Sara, I am the mother of a teenage boy who has epilepsy, autism and learning disabilities. Like Connor, my son has had seizures in the bath and in the swimming pool, and only through vigilance, care and appropriate management of risk he has come to no harm. Unlike Connor, my son is alive because he has not been failed by the people who should be keeping him safe.

I, like many other parents with a disabled child, worry for the future when I am not around to care for him. My son could easily follow a similar path to Connor and end up, somewhere in the UK, in an assessment and treatment unit. BBC Panorama’s exposure of abuse at Winterbourne View, and now the neglect and failure of basic care for Connor at Slade House fill me with horror and dread.

The Trust failed Connor in the last 107 days of his life, and has failed at every opportunity since his death to be accountable and responsible. Instead, the Trust has caused even greater hurt and distress to Connor’s family (if that were possible) by its subsequent actions.

  • Why did the Trust spend £265,000 (excl. VAT) of taxpayers’ money in legal representation at Connor’s “non-adversarial” inquest in October 2015, when the Verita 1 report established in February 2014 that Connor’s death was preventable?
  • Why did the Trust try to persuade the coroner that an Article 2 inquest was not appropriate, on the spurious grounds that Connor’s drowning was a “natural” cause of death?
  • Why did the Trust try to delay (and consequently, increase costs) by requesting the Chief Coroner to move Connor’s inquest to the High Court?

The Mazars review, prompted by Connor’s death, now uncovers a bigger picture of serious failings of the Trust to record, investigate and analyse serious incidents and deaths of people with learning disabilities.

Time and time again I hear that “lessons have been learned”. No, lessons have not been learned.

The Trust has failed in its duty to vulnerable patients.

The Trust’s CEO and Board represent failure, and the public’s confidence in the current leadership has gone.

This is a watershed moment for the Trust. The current Board – if it had any sense of responsibility and accountability – needs to stand down and allow others with competence and the public’s confidence to take charge. Next week’s extraordinary Board meeting (Monday 11th January 2016) would be the appropriate event for such an announcement.

And so, if the Board fails (again) to do the right thing, are you prepared to sack them?

I would draw a parallel between the fight for truth and justice following Connor’s death to that of Stephen Lawrence. His racist murder in April 1993 would have been just another statistic had it not been for the campaign to have his killers brought to justice and the institutions that failed him brought to account. Most notably, his mother, Doreen Lawrence, was central to that campaign and to the outcome of the Macpherson Inquiry where the culture of institutional racism was exposed and challenged. Similarly, Connor’s mother, Sara Ryan, is now central to bringing justice for Connor and for other learning disabled people.

A watershed moment for you, then, Secretary of State?

Yours sincerely

Colleen Wilson

cc Katrina Percy, CEO Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust
Heidi Alexander MP
Dr Philippa Whitford MP
Dr Lisa Cameron MP

4 responses to “A letter to the Secretary of State for Health #JusticeforLB”

  1. Jane Heyes says:

    With great admiration for the restraint and dignity shown by Sara and her family I entirely echo the sentiments of Colleen’s letter. My nephew has similar disabilities and is in his early 20s. His parents have the opportunity to care for him still, but for his future and that of so many families there is fear and mistrust.

  2. TSF says:

    What an outstanding letter. We too have a son with epilepsy and autism (and other complex medical needs). That Sara remains driven to such lengths by the disgraceful actions of those who should have kept her son safe is beyond belief. Those that have the power to act have not doneso. This must change. Now.

  3. Jade Taylor says:

    Regulators have taken no action to suspend members of the board at Soithern Health. This should have occurred with immediate effect.
    Police have been called in by relatives instead of regulators. I feel the lack of appropriate action as described above is very odd and in itself the response by regulators requires investigation.
    I myself wrote to the CQC and NHS England regarding a suspension of the CEO. I have as yet to receive a response.

  4. Jan Walmsley says:

    What a brilliant letter. How can he fail to respond?
    I wrote to my MP, John Bercow about Mazars. His response – ‘a very grave matter’ ‘very serious failings’. But what does he do with it? Pass to Jeremy Hunt, asking what action he proposes to take. We know what S o S will say ‘ have kicked into long grass, oops sorry mean ask CQC to undertake a thorough investigaton …’.
    Hoping I’m wrong, keep up the fight everyone, you have done amazing things so far, more to come

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