A prominent Darlington councillor has joined calls for a full public inquiry into a local NHS Trust after an experience with a vulnerable woman raised his concerns about their mental health provision.

But the Trust has said that they have made significant improvements since the 2021 incident, with their crisis services being rated as good by the Care Quality Commission in their most recent inspection.

Cllr Gerald Lee, a Conservative representing the Heighington and Coniscliffe Ward, was driving home in 2021 when he came across a woman attempting to take her own life.

The woman – whose name Cllr Lee never found out – was a patient from West Park Hospital, run by Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust (TEWV).

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Whilst speaking to her, Cllr Lee and his wife Ruth discovered that the woman had been released from the Darlington psychiatric unit after harming herself and had been told to walk to A&E at the nearby Darlington Memorial Hospital.

When contacting the hospital’s crisis team for aid, the Lees were “shocked” by the attitude of the staff on the other end of the phone.

“There was no sympathy and no empathy for the woman. All the answers we got were short and curt, and we were told that unless the young woman contacted the crisis team herself there was nothing they could do," said Cllr Lee.

“She was actively in the process of taking her life, and I explained that to the crisis team that over the phone, but still, they wouldn’t send anyone out to help.  

“They didn’t even tell me what I should be saying to talk down the young woman. Instead, when I mentioned that I was a councillor, I was asked if I was threatening them.”

Read more: 41 patients died in six months following contact with TEWV crisis team

Following this experience, Cllr Lee raised his concerns whilst in his role on the Health and Housing committee at Darlington Council – but says that nothing ever came of this.

He added: “I have two main concerns. Firstly – why was this young woman let out of West Park, and told to get herself to another hospital, without any assistance?

“She was upset, and there should have been staff with her or some kind of support, to make sure that she got to A&E. Someone should have been with her.

“And why were staff so uncaring? The woman was actively taking her own life, only just managing to hold on. The crisis team wouldn’t send someone out, and wouldn’t help me to help her either.”

Thankfully, through Cllr Lee and his wife’s efforts alongside other members of the public and police, the woman did not take her own life.

Cllr Lee has now joined calls for a public inquiry into TEWV.

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He said: “Given what has happened in recent years, an inquiry has to happen.  

“I am a firm supporter of the NHS and the police, but something needs to be done about TEWV. There has to be an investigation into this, and into the deaths of the young girls [at West Lane hospital].”

Cllr Lee’s account follows a period of scrutiny for TEWV.

In February, the CQC announced that they would be bringing criminal charges against the Trust in relation to the deaths of Christie Harnett, 17, Emily Moore, 18, and a third person who died just 18 months after Christie. All three were detained mental health patients in the care of the Trust.

In March, a damning report on the deaths of Christie Harnett, Nadia Sharif and Emily Moore was published, finding their care to be “chaotic”, and that there had been “major failings” on TEWV’s part.

Following reporting of patient stories, politicians, including local MPs Mary Foy and Peter Gibson, as well as the leader of the Labour Party Sir Kier Starmer, have voiced their concerns about TEWV.

Read more: Man jailed after telling Seaham woman he would knife her

Patrick Scott, managing director for the Durham, Tees Valley and Forensics care group at the Trust, said: “Although we are unable to comment on individuals, we are committed to providing safe, high-quality care for the people we support.

“Since Councillor Lee’s experience in 2021, we have made significant improvements to our services. These were recognised by the CQC, which rated our mental health crisis services as good in its most recent inspection.

“We are very happy to discuss these improvements with Councillor Lee and welcome him into our services to see them first-hand.”