GOVERNMENT officials say they will respond to calls for a public inquiry into a troubled mental health trust.

Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust is trying to recover from a string of poor Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections and problems at the former West Lane Hospital, in Middlesbrough. Stockton councillors were told of ongoing efforts to boost recruitment, reduce the use of bank staff and improve the trust culture at a recent select committee.

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But the authority’s adult social care and health select committee agreed to write to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid last month after nagging doubts over staff and patient feedback and efforts to improve the culture at the trust. A letter was sent on April 5 to request a public inquiry into the “continued failings and lack of notable improvement” of the trust following a council motion passed in January.

A copy seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service lists how an independent investigation into deaths at West Lane Hospital has not yet been published – and also refers to the “inadequate” verdict handed down by the CQC when it came to the trust’s secure forensic wards in December.

The letter added: “As a select committee, we have listened to senior TEWV representatives on their plans for affecting change and recognise the fact that some of this intent will need time before it can come to fruition.

“However, we are also mindful that a number of issues identified in the latest CQC report are far from new – and (we) are particularly concerned about their suggestions of a “toxic culture” as well as the continued lack of an appropriate response to members’ requests around staffing.

“While we continue to hold TEWV to account locally, we therefore ask that the Government initiate a public inquiry to determine the trust’s ability to provide what remain crucial services for a significant part of the local and regional population.”

Government officials at the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed they had received the letter and would respond in due course.

Former TEWV employee Cllr Ray Godwin revealed he’d blown the whistle on problems at the trust’s forensic wards – grilling trust chiefs in a terse committee meeting earlier this year.

In February, he said: “I was employed in forensic services for 28 years – 26 happy years and two years where I raised concerns to the board at all levels, both as a governor and as a member of staff.

“I also raised concerns as a councillor, I’ve raised concerns to the CQC and the end result was, in my personal experience, that TEWV didn’t address any of it – and that’s clearly evident in the CQC report.”

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But chief executive Brent Kilmurray told the panel there had been “significant change” with a boost in clinical leadership and a wide-ranging plan to improve.

A March meeting also heard how TEWV was working with Sussex University on its online recruitment system to allow people to apply for jobs around the clock. Changes to the trust’s rostering system were also flagged as helping workers get breaks in forensic services.

Mr Kilmurray also told the latest Tees Valley joint health scrutiny committee there was “no evidence” to suggest cultural problems were widespread at the trust.

Councillors were also told of work to reorganise the trust into two parts – with one covering County Durham and Teesside, and the other looking at North Yorkshire and York in a bid to address worries about the size of the trust.

In the wake of the Stockton committee’s decision to call for a public inquiry, TEWV director Ann Bridges said they had invited councillors in the scrutiny process to visit wards to “see the changes that have taken place for themselves”.

She added: “We have been clear throughout that there remains much work to be done – some improvements are already in place, but others will take time to bed in.”

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