Appeal for St Andrew Hospital deaths’ report to be public

St Andrews Hospital, Northampton.
St Andrews Hospital, Northampton.

A health watchdog has called for an independent inquiry into four deaths on the same ward, after claiming a lack of transparency from the Northampton hospital involved.

The Chronicle & Echo reported last year that the deaths had taken place within eight months of each other in 2010 and 2011, on St Andrew’s Hospital’s Grafton Ward.

Since the inquest of the final patient to die was held, Bill Johnson, of Healthwatch Northamptonshire has sought a jargon-free version of the mental health hospital’s own internal inquiry plus an abridged version for the public.

But after recent talks broke down between Healthwatch and the charity that runs St Andrew’s Hospital, St Andrew’s Healthcare, the watchdog has warned it is escalating the matter to higher authorities.

Rosie Newbigging, Healthwatch Northamptonshire’s chief executive, said there had been a lack of the level of transparency needed to hold St Andrew’s Healthcare to account.

She said: “We have asked for a version of the report that can be read by the public, but that hasn’t been forthcoming and we feel there’s a public interest issue.

“The question is, should we call for an independent investigation to be asking for at least a summary to be in the public domain?”

Proposing a motion for a thorough investigation, which was carried, Healthwatch advisory council member, Fred Evans, said: “We wouldn’t be doing the job we were set up to do if we didn’t call for an inquiry.”

In June 2013, the assistant deputy coroner for Northamptonshire recorded a narrative verdict in Mr Johnson’s inquest after hearing he had died following severe constipation, a known side-effect of the anti-psychotic drug, clozapine.

Mr Johnson’s family’s solicitors believed there may have been links between his death and that of three other patients on Grafton Ward, all of whom died within seven months of each other while on anti-psychotic medication.

County coroner Anne Pember has since said she would not be reopening any of the previous inquests.

Healthwatch now has several options. It can recommend the Care Quality Commission investigates the four deaths as one issue, rather than individual cases.

If it is still not satisfied, Healthwatch Northamptonshire can then escalate to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

However the watchdog is likely to push for a multi-disciplinary panel, perhaps backed by NHS England, to be set up to carry out an independent inquiry.

A spokeswoman for St Andrew’s Hospital said it had already provided inspectors commissioners and the Coroner’s office with information. She added: “Should NHS England decide to conduct any further investigations, we will support that work willingly.”