Lawyers representing bereaved families of mental health patients have accused the trust of “not learning” from past mistakes.

Statistics show 21 patients of Durham and Darlington crisis team died in the 16 months between February 2021 and June 2022.

Service operator Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV) claimed that “significant improvements” were made in June 2022 - after the tragic death of a patient who phoned for help 37 times. But the figures have revealed that a further 20 people died in the 12 months since then.

Alistair Smith and Lucy Wennington, solicitors from Watson Woodhouse, said that these numbers demonstrate that TEWV “doesn’t learn despite stating that things have changed”.

They called again for a public inquiry into the trust and asked: "How many more patients have to lose their lives?"

This follows a period of intense scrutiny for TEWV.

Changes were made to Durham and Darlington’s crisis service after the death of David Stevens, who contacted the service for help 37 times. Staff never escalated concerns about his mental state, and Mr Stevens took his own life at his Willington home in June 2022.

At an inquest, TEWV said that improvements have been made since the death of Mr Stevens, and added that statistics may not show the complex reality of their patients’ care and health needs.

This summer, The Northern Echo revealed that 41 mental health patients died unexpectedly – which may mean by suicide or by an unexpected physical health issue, drug and alcohol-related, or accidentally - between February 2021 and June 2023, within six months of contacting the crisis team.

The new information has revealed that nearly half of these unexpected deaths – 20 – occurred in the 12 months between June 2022 and June 2023, following Mr Stevens’ death, leading to the accusations that lessons have not been heard.

For much of this period, the crisis team was in business continuity arrangements, meaning the running of only the essential services was prioritised.

Only half of the positions on the crisis team were filled, and unregistered, unqualified practitioners were often picking up calls from people in the depths of a mental health crisis.

Responding to this, a spokesperson for TEWV said they “continue to make improvements to our Durham and Darlington crisis service”, which, as of June 2023, left business continuity arrangements.

New initiatives have been introduced in the crisis team such as a 24/7 listening service, peer workers undertaking home visits, and “happiness hubs” to support wellbeing.

The solicitors from Watson Woodhouse represent two of the bereaved families in inquests arising from the deaths of their loved ones who had both had repeated contact with Durham and Darlington crisis team before taking their own lives. 

They said: “These numbers are awful and show a trust that doesn't learn despite senior managers repeatedly stating that things have changed. 

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“It appears that just coming out of a business continuity plan is thought of as a isn't and shows just how low the standard of care provided by TEWV has fallen. 

“How many more patients have to lose their lives before the government listens to the calls by us and the many bereaved families for a public inquiry into these shocking and ongoing failings at Tees, Esk, and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust.”

A spokesperson for TEWV said: “We continue to make improvements to our Durham and Darlington crisis service, which has now exited business continuity arrangements. We remain committed to these improvements, which were recognised by HM Coroner at a recent inquest.”