New figures have revealed that 41 mental health patients died within six months of getting care from a North East NHS trust's crisis team in the last two years.

Lawyers representing some of the patients' families say they believe this new information - obtained under the Freedom of Information Act - has strengthened their case for a public inquiry. 

All of the 41 patients died following contact with the Durham and Darlington Crisis Team (DDCT) since February 2021.  

The DDCT is one of the Tees, Esk & Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust Crisis Services (TEWV). It is intended to offer urgent support and care to adults in County Durham and Darlington who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

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These 41 deaths did not occur naturally – meaning patients died from unexpected physical health issues, drug and alcohol-related deaths, and unknown causes, as well as completing suicide.  

Two of the patients included in this number are Linda Banks, and David Stevens - both are understood to have taken their own lives.

Linda, 48, died in hospital on April 10, 2022, while David, 57, died at his home in Crook on June 15, 2022.

They had both been in contact with the crisis team and had known histories of mental illness.

Now, both of their families have claimed that Tees, Esk & Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust failed to accurately judge the risk that they posed to themselves.

Before Linda and David died, the trust commissioned a thematic review to find any issues with care after four DDCT patients unexpectedly died in a five-week period in 2021. The 41 patients identified in the FOI request includes these four.

This review identified several troubling themes in care provided to some patients, including issues with referral, triage and escalation processes; problems with staffing levels and team culture; and a failure by staff to adhere to clinical policy/procedures.

Lawyers say the new figures demonstrate that lessons have not been learned.

The family of Linda Banks, of Chilton, said that they have been “made to feel like they’ve failed her” after the DDCT advised them that her pleas for help were just “attention seeking”.

Her brother, Jonathan Banks, said: “The trust has done their own thematic review into their crisis team – but Linda’s death, and the number of deaths since then shows that they’re just not listening.”

Read more: Family claim West Park hospital, Darlington, was 'compassionless'

This was echoed by the family’s solicitor, Alistair Smith of Watson Woodhouse: “Quite manifestly, TEWV’s thematic review does not seem to have worked. Going forward, our only option is an inquiry.”

This comes during a period of intense scrutiny on TEWV following patient deaths, shocking allegations of abuse, and highly critical regulator reports.

In March, an independent report found that the care given to teenage patients was “chaotic and unsafe” before their deaths between June 2019 and February 2020. The CQC is now prosecuting the Trust for the deaths of three of its patients.

In pre-inquest hearings held in Crook, County Durham, the coroner heard that TEWV were aware of issues with the DDCT for a number of years preceding Linda and David’s deaths.

Legal representation for the two families alleged that many of the issues with DDCT that were raised in relation to Linda and David’s deaths had been recognised and linked to previous deaths in TEWV’s 2021 Review.

Read next: Calls for inquiry into TEWV NHS Trust intensify after multiple deaths

At the pre-inquest review, Lily Lewis, representing Mr Stevens' family, said it was "at least arguable" there was link between "deficiencies in his care and his death".

But Jamie Mathieson, representing TEWV at the review, said that difficulties faced by staff did not mean that there was a “systemic failure”, and asserted that plans have been drawn up to address shortcomings.

Respectively, inquests into the deaths of David and Linda are set to investigate the circumstances leading up to their deaths on October 16 and November 21 later this year. 

A spokesperson for Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said: “It is incredibly sad when a person that has been in contact with any of our services dies and our hearts go out to families who have lost loved ones.

"We would always carry out a review of our care so that we can understand if there are areas where we can improve.

“We are committed to providing safe, high quality services for people across the communities that we support.

“As you would expect we are unable to comment on the details of individuals in our care.”

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  • Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust crisis line 0800 0516 171.